This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Korach, which begins with an incident involving a man named Korach, who responds to Moses’ brother Aaron’s appointment to the priesthood by… staging a mutiny. The result was that God stepped in and caused the earth to open up and swallow Korach and his followers, their tents and all.
A mutiny is, of course, NOT what I am encouraging us to take away from our parashah this week. Torah, as we learn the more we delve into it, has many layers of meaning and wisdom, and I want to use the story of Korach’s rebellion to point out an important detail that is easy to overlook amidst the drama and trauma of the incident.
Moses is already leading the people of Israel through the wilderness, where life is completely disorienting for them, and then he promotes his brother and nephews to the priesthood. Korach and his followers had feelings about this.
וַיִּקָּהֲלוּ עַל־מֹשֶׁה וְעַל־אַהֲרֹן וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֲלֵהֶם רַב־לָכֶם כִּי כׇל־הָעֵדָה כֻּלָּם קְדֹשִׁים וּבְתוֹכָם יְהֹוָה וּמַדּוּעַ תִּתְנַשְּׂאוּ עַל־קְהַל יְהֹוָה׃
They gathered against Moses and against Aaron and they said to them: [You take] too much upon yourselves, for the entire community is all holy, and God is among them [too]. Why do you raise yourselves up over the community of God? (Num. 16:3)
Many people say that Korach was overstepping or that he was being rude and inappropriate, and many translations reflect a harsher tone of voice, but I think he’s asking legitimate emotional questions, and I think that, in the very next verse, Moses initially had a really good response:
וַיִּשְׁמַע מֹשֶׁה וַיִּפֹּל עַל־פָּנָיו׃
Moses heard, and he fell on his face. (Num. 16:4)
Let’s forget for a moment that Moses then immediately passes the buck to God, who responds with violence, and focus on what seems to be Moses’ instinctive reaction. He listens, and he humbles himself.
Korach, and really the entire community, have been taken out of a familiar setting in Egypt and have been thrust into the uncertainty of transition, with a leader who asks them for their trust while being unable to tell them what next year or even next month will look like. People have emotional responses to far less dramatic circumstances, and all emotional responses are valid responses.
The WJC too is in a transition filled with uncertainty, and while thankfully I am on an incredible team here with whom to help the community navigate the wilderness, there WILL be emotional responses. Some of you may already be feeling some – joy, grief, excitement, trepidation… And some emotions may pop up and surprise you later, or may arrive at surprising moments.
What I will not do is have God open up the earth and take you and your feelings far away from me. What I WILL do is listen, really hear you, and humble myself. I may be part of the leadership team here, but I am not raising myself or us up over this community of God. I want to be down in the nitty gritty with you and every big or small emotion you show up with. The only way I CAN be your rabbi during this time of transition is by meeting you where you are, wherever you are and however you are. I hope that each one of you will feel welcome to be your full authentic selves with me as we navigate the wilderness together.
May it be a year of growth, and may we understand that healthy growth often comes with growing pains, but that we can move towards healing and joy together. May we find comfort in the sameness and excitement in the changes, and may we honor every emotion that joins us for the ride.