Rabbi Elkin's Shabbat Message - July 5, 2024

  • Clergy
  • Shabbat
Rabbi Elkin's Shabbat Message - July 5, 2024

Korach, our Torah portion this week, drops us right in the middle of the most brutal family road trip in Jewish history. At this point in the narrative, the Israelites are still rambling through the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land, and they want to know why they aren’t there yet. Gone are the feelings of gratitude and relief from their escape from Egypt, and the mystical awe experienced at the splitting of the sea and Mt. Sinai. With nothing but a long, unending stretch of desert before them, these Jews are grumpy.

Having established certain rules and practices, like the Ten Commandments and the role of the priests, Moses now faces the pushback and challenges to his authority throughout the Book of Numbers. This week, his own cousin, Korach, rallies together a rebellion to knock Moses and Aaron down a peg, confronting Moses and Aaron with the demanding question, “Who put you in charge?!” God eventually intervenes, and the earth splits open and swallows Korach into the chasm, putting an end to the rebellion (Numbers 16:23-35).

This episode raises several interesting questions for us today, particularly on this 4th of July weekend Shabbat. Independence and freedom are one thing, but what comes next? Once the Israelites made it out of Egypt, the real work began. At a certain point, freedom without structure turns to chaos, and Moses has been tasked to turn this rag-tag bunch into a people, into a collective, into a community. But the journey from independence to a stable collective is hard. 

As Korach teaches us this week, there is a fine line between necessary and constructive criticism that comes from investment in the process, and destructive rebellion guided by personal gain. Korach symbolizes this selfish motivation, and God’s punishment for him proves his failures and further legitimizes Moses’ and Aaron’s authority. But of course there are also times when criticism is helpful and important. Fun fact about American democracy: the first version of American government failed after ten years and was replaced by the Constitution in 1789. Clearly healthy feedback and challenges helped shape the United States into what it would become. Democracy and peoplehood is a toiling project. 

On this 4th of July weekend Shabbat, wishing you rest, freedom, and plenty of grilling and baseball.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Hannah Elkin