This week’s Torah portion has much to talk about. It is filled with rebellion and special effects. It might be like a StarWars movie, or maybe even the new WonderWoman movie.
Yet, yesterday we had a Bat Mitzvah celebration. She is a young, bright, articulate woman, as she got to do the sermon. I delivered a charge. And I reminded her that she needs to have trust in herself. Faith in herself. Which in Hebrew are related words. There will be challenges to her leadership, there always are, but like Moses, she needs to rise above it and find a way to carry on.
The portion has a lot to say about leadership. Seems to be the theme of my month. I wrote about it for the newsletter ahead of the service to install the CKI board, the Sisterhood board and the Men’s Club board. I spoke about it at the Chamber of Commerce CEO Unplugged Event. (More on that later) I am planning a leadership development workshop. (More on that later) and then here comes Korach.
Korach challenges Moses’s authority and together with 250 other leaders, complains that Moses has gone too far, that every body in the community is holy and he should not place himself above them. He is right. Every body is holy—and we know that from the idea of being created in the image of the divine, b’tzelem elohim. We know that from being told that Israel is a holy nation, a light to the nations.
So why did Korach and his followers rebel? Because they were jealous. They felt that Moses together with Aaron and Miriam had too much power concentrated in one family and they felt that they did not need an intermediary between G-d and an individual Israelite. Korach reminds me of some current leaders who really are rabble rousers and convince others to join them—by instigating and inflaming the discussion. Inciting and provoking his supporters. That is an sermon for another day.
So confronted with this serious threat to his authority, to his leadership, what did Moses do? What was his response to this rebellion? Moses was a humble leader. More humble than any other leader before or since. He fell on his face. Then he stopped. And told the people to come back in the morning.
This is brilliant and really, really important. As Rabbi Wendi Geffen reminded us, especially, in our age of instant gratification. I want what I want when I want it and I want it now. We are used to instant communication. We are used to being able to watch whatever we want whenever we want on any device in the house. We are used to being able to order anything we want and have it delivered overnight—no, now we can actually have it delivered the same day, within hours from with either Amazon Fresh or Google Express—without leaving the comfort of our homes. And we expect instant responses to email or phone calls, with unlimited data and minutes. It wasn’t always this way. In the old days you might write a letter—a lost art—and then have to wait days, or weeks or even months for a response. You might have a phone, and can you imagine, because long distance was expensive you might have to wait until 5 when the rates dropped or even 11 when they dropped further to phone a friend.
Moses did something we just don’t do as much now. He didn’t just respond quickly and in haste. He didn’t scream his response immediately to whomever was standing there. He didn’t SnapChat his response or post it on Facebook or Instagram or tweet it for all the world to see immediately. How many of us have written that FLAME of an email and hit the send button too soon?
No. Moses fell on his face. He stopped. He paused. He waited. Overnight. Until he was calm. Until he could respond without anger. Until he could devise, with G-d’s help, a measured response. He told the rebellious ones to come back in the morning.
Korach had a point. Every Jew is holy. Every person is holy.
Now at turns out that G-d too is a wee bit jealous. And G-d devised this test of loyalty. With firepans. And G-d wiped out the 250 rebellious ones. Wow! I think most of us are not comfortable with that theology. I am sure I am not.
But after the fire, G-d commands Moses to rescue the firepans because they have become sacred, holy. Those firepans were hammered into sheets and that is what plated the altar. It reminds me of the ritual at the Passover seder. When we pour out a drop of wine for each of the 10 Plagues, when we remember that the Egyptians had to die in order that we might taste freedom. It reminds me of the stumbling stones in Berlin. It reminds me of our new ner tamid, out of fused glass to remember the atrocities of Kristalnacht and the Holocaust. We must remember those who died. Whether we agree with them or not.
We learn for from Korach. Pirke Avot teaches us that “Any dispute that is for the sake of Heaven is destined to endure; one that is not for the sake of Heaven is not destined to endure. Which is a dispute that is for the sake of Heaven? The dispute(s) between Hillel and Shamai. Which is a dispute that is not for the sake of Heaven? The dispute of Korach and all his company.” (Pirke Avot 5:17)
We know the song Tzadik Katamar, the righteous shall flourish like a date palm. From Psalm 92. We sing it every Shabbat.
But thanks to Rabbi Wendi Geffen, I was reminded that the rabbis see it as a code, a clue to this week’s parsha. The last letters of the phrase, Tzadik Katamar Yifrach, Koof, Reish Chaf spell Korach. His opinion is preserved, too. His truth is preserved, too.
We Jews argue all the time. We joke about two Jews and three opinions. We talk about the man on the deserted island who built two synagogues so he had one not to attend. But we need to be careful. Our arguments need to be like Hillel and Shammai. Like Moses. For the sake for heaven. We need to do what they did—to listen—really, really listen and to respond slowly and carefully to honor the other person—even if that person is rebelling. Even if that person is flat out wrong. That’s the humility of Moses’s leadership.
So think the next time you get that inflammatory email before you jot off a response and hit send.