Double Dare: Korah 2017

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Have you ever been subject to a “litmus test” to prove yourself to someone else? If so, have these tests been fair to you? Are these kinds of tests ever fair?

In response to Korah’s threat to Israelite leadership, Moses establishes a challenge to the rebels to show, once and for all, whom God trusts:

The Pitch: “‘Do this: You, Korah and all your band, take fire pans, and tomorrow put fire in them and lay incense on them before the Lord. Then the man whom the Lord chooses, he shall be the holy one. You have gone too far, sons of Levi!’” – Numbers 16:6-7

Swing #1: “Korah saw by prophetic vision that one of his descendants would be Samuel of Ramathaim who would only reach the age of 52, but would be Judge over the people of Israel for 11 years. He regarded this as proof that it was possible to hold a position of leadership in Israel even if one was below the age of 50, as long as one was familiar with the Five Books of Moses. It was for this reason that Korah aspired to become a leader of his people though he was not yet 50 years old. – P’ninim Yekarim

Swing #2: “On the face of it, the Korah rebellion is a struggle over questions of power and ambition. … The same rhetoric of too much and too little appears [repeatedly] … Implicit in this language is the issue of desire and greed, of legitimate and illegitimate ambition.” – Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, Bewilderments: Reflections on the Book of Numbers

Swing #3: “Moses says that they, not he, are the ungrateful ones presumptuously seeking power. … Moses taunts those who have accused him of exactly what they now are doing. To settle the matter that these principles come from God and not from a man called Moses, he calls on Korah and his company to burn incense before the Lord so that God may choose among the factions.” – Aaron Wildavsky, Moses as Political Leader

Late-Inning Questions: To what extent do our commentaries seem sympathetic to Korah? To Moses? Is Moses’s response to Korah’s challenge reasonable? Is there a case to be made for Korah’s rebellion, or are they clearly the villains of the story? What is the difference between ethical rebellion and unethical rebellion? Where does Korah’s rebellion fall on this scale?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: I wish to express my gratitude to everyone who helped make our Healing Service a memorable experience. Thanks so much to the Mintzers for hosting; to Stuhr’s Funeral Home for loaning us the tent, chairs, and sound system; to Ruthie and the rest of the office staff for their tireless efforts; and, of course, to our new friends at Mother Emanuel AME for joining us.

The Big Inning at the End: Another week, another discussion about the so-called unwritten code of the game. This week, debates rage about whether a slow home-run trot is appropriate, and whether bunting to break up a no-hitter is classy. Isn’t it time that we write these rules down?

Shabbat Shalom!