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Posts Tagged ‘rebellion’

A Disturbing Turn of Events – קרח

Posted by rabbiart on June 27, 2008

This week we are reading Parshat Korach. Moshe, after successfully extricating the Israelites from the slavery of Mitzrayim, guidng them to Har Sinai and receiving the Torah on their behalf, is now confronted by a disgruntled group of Levites.  They are led of course by Korach. He is assisted by Dathan, Abiram and On.  In total, 254 men, all of them leaders and “men of renown.”  In short, people who were already part of the leadership, people who already had an important role to fulfill in the service of the people. As Moshe attempts to explain.

הַמְעַט מִכֶּם, כִּי-הִבְדִּיל אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶתְכֶם מֵעֲדַת יִשְׂרָאֵל, לְהַקְרִיב אֶתְכֶם, אֵלָיו–לַעֲבֹד, אֶת-עֲבֹדַת מִשְׁכַּן יְהוָה, וְלַעֲמֹד לִפְנֵי הָעֵדָה, לְשָׁרְתָם.

“is it but a small thing unto you, that the God of Israel hath separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to Himself, to do the service of the tabernacle of the LORD, and to stand before the congregation to minister unto them?”

There are so many ways to approach this sad and disturbing situation.  We might ask whether this is an organizational issue, a power struggle, a question of faith.  But every so often, we should also remind ourselves that the characters in the Torah were real people, each with their own burdens, their own feelings, their own drives, ust like us!  We might ask, “what drove Korach and crew to resent Moshe so much that they acted in this way?”  We might ask, how did this make Moshe feel, after all that he had done to this point, to be treated in this fashion?

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Pesach Torah Readings

Posted by rabbiart on April 23, 2008

This Shabbat – and on Sunday, the eighth day of Pesach, we depart from the weekly cycle of Torah readings. (We continue next week with Kedoshim). The reading for Shabbat (seventh day of Pesach) begins in the very moment that the Israelites have escaped from Mitzrayim and are lead by HaShem to the Sea of Reeds. The reading for the eighth day begins with the instruction to sanctify our first born animals to HaShem. It continues with instructions for observing Pesach, counting the Omer, and observing the holiday of Shavuot wherein we commemorate the reception of the Torah.

The first rebellion

At the end of the Shabbat Torah reading, we find the Israelites already questioning Moshe’s leadership. At a place that has entered the Kabbalat Shabbat liturgy (Psalm 95), the people come to Marah (Hebrew for bitter) and are unable to drink the water, because it is bitter. HaShem provides a tree, which Moshe throws into the water. The water turns sweet and the people drink. This appears to have been a test, for HaShem then makes the prounouncement that is the final verse of our Shabbat Torah reading.

וַיֹּאמֶר אִם-שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמַע לְקוֹל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, וְהַיָּשָׁר בְּעֵינָיו תַּעֲשֶׂה, וְהַאֲזַנְתָּ לְמִצְו‍ֹתָיו, וְשָׁמַרְתָּ כָּל-חֻקָּיו–כָּל-הַמַּחֲלָה אֲשֶׁר-שַׂמְתִּי בְמִצְרַיִם, לֹא-אָשִׂים עָלֶיךָ, כִּי אֲנִי יְהוָה, רֹפְאֶךָ

He said “If you will really listen to the voice of Adonai your god, and do what is right in his eyes, and pay attention to his mitzvot and keep all his laws, then all the diseases that I put on Mitzrayim, I will not put on you, for I am Adonai, your healer.”

Is this statement a threat, a promise, or simply a way of saying that actions have consequences? Perhaps it is a combination of all three. I suspect for most readers, the idea that Hashem threatens us is an uncomfortable notion. We are much happier with a G-d who makes promises, or a naturalistic notion that there are inevitably consequences to how we behave.

Why was Psalm 95 chosen as the first prayer of the Kabbalat Shabbat? True, the psalm calls us to worship HaShem, and mentions “rest”, but it also deliberately recalls the first post-Egypt questioning of Moshe’s (and HaShem’s) leadership. Not only that, but the psalm reminds us that the wilderness generation – which was not spiritually free – could not enter the promised land. One way to read this passage is that failing to observe and guard the Shabbat, to take full benefit of its time for rest, study and renewal, is to live a life akin to wandering in the wilderness of Sinai. Not fully slave, but not yet fully free.

Counting the Omer, about which we read on the last day of Pesach, links Yitziat Mitzrayim (the escape from Egypt) to the holiday of Shavuot (weeks) which celebrates the reception of the Torah. There is a relationship between the Pesach – Shavuot connection, and the process for making matzah. Strange as it seems ( and it does seem strange) the ingredients for chametz (bread) and matzah are the same; flour and water. The only difference between the two is time. When mixing flour and water to make matzah, the dough must get into the oven and start baking in no more than eighteen minutes. Anything longer, and it turns into chametz which cannot be eaten on Pesach.

The relationship of Pesach and Shavuot is also one of time. The wilderness generation escapes from Egypt, and the same people stand at Sinai to receive the Torah. When they are presented by Moshe with the opportunity to escape Egypt, they are hesitant and unwilling. When they are presented with the opportunity of Torah at Sinai, they respond נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע “We will do and understand”. What is different? The passage of time. Time – and the experiences that come with it – change us. Shabbat is a sanctuary built in time. Seven Shabbatot, properly observed, can change us from people who want to be slaves, to people who want to be free. This is the connection between Pesach and Shavuot, and why Pesach “is not over” until we get to Shabbat.

According to rabbinic tradition, counting the Omer is a single mitzvah that must be performed over the 49 days of the Omer. If one misses a single day, s/he should stop counting, because the Mitzvah can no longer be performed. To “succeed” in this Mitzvah, one must pay attention every single day, demonstrating control over time. The person who can succeed at maintaining this level of intention, is well on the way to being grounded in the serious practice of following the Torah’s teachings, regardless of where s/he is in the Jewish spectrum of orientation, practice and knowledge. Counting the Omer is truly a mitzvah accessible to each and every Jew; reform, orthodox, renewal, conservative, humanist, cultural, atheist, conservadox, chabadnik, hassidic, mitnagid, even karaite (if we can find any). A mitzvah all jews could agree on. Perhaps the mashiach might be on his way after all.

Shabbat Shalom

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