Friday, June 23, 2023 – ד׳ תַּמּוּז תשפ”ג
וַיִּֽקָּהֲל֞וּ עַל־מֹשֶׁ֣ה וְעַֽל־אַהֲרֹ֗ן וַיֹּאמְר֣וּ אֲלֵהֶם֮ רַב־לָכֶם֒ כִּ֤י כׇל־הָֽעֵדָה֙ כֻּלָּ֣ם קְדֹשִׁ֔ים וּבְתוֹכָ֖ם יְהֹוָ֑ה וּמַדּ֥וּעַ תִּֽתְנַשְּׂא֖וּ עַל־קְהַ֥ל יְהֹוָֽה׃
“They combined against Moses and Aaron and said to them, ‘You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and יהוה is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above יהוה’s congregation?’” (Numbers 16:3)
Maybe we should try being a bit more like Korach.
Before you recoil and accuse me of siding with the enemy (especially since we all know what happened to him), hear me out. Maybe Korach was misunderstood, feeling underrepresented, and just plain angry. Perhaps that’s why he leveled his biting accusation against Moshe in a way that he had not done before.
Moshe was the divinely-appointed leader and was largely uncontested up until Korach threw down the gauntlet with these words: “ רַב־לָכֶם כִּי כׇל־הָעֵדָה כֻּלָּם קְדֹשִׁים. ‘You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and יהוה is in their midst.”
Taking the self-centered and self-serving Korach out of the mix for a moment, we should use his words and level them against the powers that be in Israel: ‘You have gone too far. Your insistence on pushing forward with your radical undemocratic judicial reform has gone too far.’
As the pro-democracy protests reach their 6-month mark, this is exactly what we/they’ve been saying. It’s not that we’re against reasonable reform of the judiciary system or the appointment process for judges. Rather, we believe that it must be done responsibly and through an inclusive process.
To the government also we say – ‘You’ve gone too far in enabling Settlers to run wild in the West Bank/Judea and Samaria. With the appointments of fascists and dangerous ideologues to key positions of power as the Minister of National Security and the Minister in charge of COGAT – you have enabled a rise in Settler violence against innocent Palestinians and you’ve been unable to curtail Palestinian terrorism against innocent Israelis.”
Tragically this week, 4 Jewish-Israelis were murdered and ignited a rampage of settler attacks that included the burning of a school and the cutting off of electricity in the Palestinian town of Urif.
On Wednesday afternoon, Haaretz reported also that 200 settlers, some of whom were armed, set fire to homes and vehicles in the Palestinian village of Turmus Aya in the central West Bank, and torched farmland on the outskirts of the village. Security sources estimated that 15 homes were damaged by arson and rock throwing, and 30 cars were torched there.
Not only did the IDF do nothing to stop this, messages from the political echelon encouraged it.
This has gone too far. The next level of fighting may well be a conflagration in the West Bank that will claim lives on both sides. IDF soldiers will pay the price for policies set by this irresponsible and unhinged government.
Korach’s message is particularly relevant in Israel today because of its all-encompassing universalistic nature. “For all the community are holy, all of them, and יהוה is in their midst.” Moshe, according to Korach was concerned only with himself and he accused Moshe of הִתְנַשְּׂאוּת – hitnassut meaning “you have raised yourself above the rest…” In modern Hebrew hitnassut is understood to mean snobbery or elitism, a label thrown around like darts at the Ashkenazi secular population in Israel that is accused of having imposed its values through judicial review and an activist Supreme Court under the leadership of the Chief Justice Aharon Barak in the 1990s.
Beyond Korach’s accusation against Moshe was the divinely-appointed leader’s reaction: “When Moshe heard this, he fell on his face.” At the very least, Moshe had the humility and integrity to listen to what was being said to him and react. The scene that follows is one of the darkest chapters in our biblical lore. Whether Moshe’s reaction was genuine or not, he leaves it up to God Who then opened the earth that swallowed Korach and his ilk – 250 in all.
It was the equivalent of letting the electorate decide, but we no longer live in a world in which the punishment for losing an election is to be slaughtered or banished by one’s political opponents.
“You have Gone too far,” or הגזמנתם! Some Israelis might say that this should be the clarion call of this moment. Israelis and Jews around the world have reminded the ruling coalition that their dog has caught the car but now what’s the dog gonna do? The extreme Israeli right wing has been so obsessed with gaining power that they haven’t considered adequately enough the ramifications of what they should do with the power they hold.
Korach’s accusation against Moshe is regarded by rabbinic tradition as being disingenuous, and not – “לשם שמיים” – “for the sake of heaven” (Pirkei Avot 5:17). If he were to have assumed power it would be only for his own self-aggrandizement and self-interest. That may be the single distinction between the liberal democrats vs. the anti-liberal camp. I have heard this rationalization too often from those who support judicial reform. “Don’t worry,” they say, tongue planted firmly in cheek, “the pendulum will swing back in the next election and you (i.e. the left/liberal camp) will be back in power and you’ll have free reign to do whatever you want.”
But here’s the thing. The goal isn’t power for power’s sake. The goal is to do what’s best for the entire camp and for everyone living under our rule, NOT just one’s own sector or voter base.
While I don’t wish the ground to open up and swallow anyone, this is the time to keep protesting, always for the sake of heaven.