KOL HAMIDBAR – A VOICE IN THE DESERT
“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
John F. Kennedy
Address on the First Anniversary of the Alliance for Progress, March 13, 1962
“You do not take a person, who for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘you are free to compete with all the others’, and still justly believe that you have been completely fair. We seek not just legal equity but human ability, not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result.”
Lyndon B. Johnson
Commencement Address at Howard University, June 4, 1965
“In the final analysis, racism is evil because its ultimate goal is genocide. Hitler was a sick and tragic man who carried racism to its logical conclusion. He ended up leading a nation to the point of killing about 6 million Jews….”
“Let me say as I’ve always said, and I will always continue to say, that riots are socially destructive and self-defeating…. I’m still convinced that nonviolence is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom and justice.”
“I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air…. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? …It has failed to hear that the promise of freedom and justice has not been met.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Excerpts from “The Other America” speech at Stanford University, April 14, 1967
It seems to me that the fear engendered by the current protests is the same as that raised during the Vietnam War protests and at other times. That is, those in power fear that it simply means turning the tables. The haves become the have-nots, and the have-nots become the new haves oppressing the new have-nots in the same way they were previously oppressed. Yes, that sentence and that thinking are convoluted. Sadly, there are plenty of historical examples, including countries to our south, that encourage that convoluted thinking. Rather than turning things upside down, what is needed, however, is a complete changing of society’s structure for the good of all.
What is our role as Reform Jews and as citizens of the United States? One answer is to vote. The exercise of our right to vote is an example of peaceful revolution.
At a recent Zoom session related to the history of Reform Judaism, Rabbi Steven Chester, Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Sinai in Oakland, asked what distinguishes Reform Judaism from the other Jewish denominations? As expected, there was a wide range of answers based on current perceptions of the movement, including its focus on Tikkun Olam, repairing the world.
While some of the perceptions were partially true and others off the mark given our varied Jewish backgrounds, most of us had no clear knowledge or full understanding of what Reform Judaism really is about.
What seems to add to the confusion is differences in practice among Reform Jews. For instance, some of us wear kippot and Tallitot, and others do not. Some of us cover our eyes during the Sh’ma and others do not. Some of us kiss the Torah as it passes by us during the Hakafah (procession with the Torah scrolls) and others do not.
These are just some of the ritual aspects of Judaism. Some of us keep kosher and others do not. Some observe complete rest on Shabbat and others do not. Some of us recite the daily prayers and others follow other practices. There are even greater differences when we get to the issue of belief.
The answer to Rabbi Chester’s question is that the hallmark of Reform Judaism is “freedom of choice through knowledge”. The only parts of Halacha that Reform Judaism views as binding are those having to do with ethics. What does that mean?
For me, it means that we do or do not do in our Jewish lives that which is based on an accurate knowledge of what is required and why we accept or reject it. It also means that we have an obligation to actively study our religion. Sometimes I find Services onerous, yet I continue to take part in weekly Services because it instructs a greater good. Often, I find Talmud exasperating, yet I continue to attend weekly Daf Yomi (“page of the day”) Talmud sessions because of the ethics to be learned. At times, I find Torah Study aggravating especially when Torah is taken literally, yet I continue to struggle with Torah on a weekly basis because of what it teaches.
Korach (קֹרַח) – Hebrew for a given name meaning “bald”, “ice”, “hail” or “frost”
Now Korach, son of Izhar son of Kohath son of Levi, betook himself, along with Dathan and Abiram sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth – descendants of Reuben – to rise up against Moses, … – Numbers 16:1-2
- Korach and his followers, Dathan and Abiram, lead a rebellion against the leadership of Moses and Aaron. God punishes the rebels by burying them and their families alive. Once again, God brings a plague on the people. (16:1-17:15)
- The chief of each tribe deposits his staff inside the Tent of Meeting. Aaron’s staff brings forth sprouts, produces blossoms, and bears almonds. (17:16-26)
- The Kohanim and Levites are established and assigned the responsibility of managing the donations to the Sanctuary. All of the firstborn offerings shall go to the priests and all the tithes are designated for the Levites in return for the services they perform. (18:1-32)
The Haftarah is I Samuel 11:14-12:22
From My Jewish Learning.com
“The Haftarah for Korach compares [his] inappropriate bid for power to the request for an Israelite king.” There is a tradition that Samuel is a descendant of Korach.
WRESTLING WITH TORAH
What’s up with all the plagues? It seems every time our ancestors did something displeasing to Adonai, bang, another plague. What is that about? Some would respond that strict adherence to the Law is demanded. Could it be that we create through our own thoughts and actions the circumstances and situations that lead to the diseases and discomforts that afflict us? Yet, that is hard to swallow because it appears to blame the victim instead of encouraging us to take responsibility for our own wellbeing.
And, what about Korach, Moses’ cousin? In modern parlance, we say someone acted in a “bald-faced” manner meaning shameless and undisguised behavior or told a “bald-faced lie”. In that sense, Korach’s name fits. In the Parsha, he and his conspirators take a “bald-faced” and calculated action against Moses and Aaron. For what purpose?
As Rabbi Jacqueline Mates-Muchin, Senior Rabbi of Temple Sinai in Oakland, indicated in a recent D’var Torah: Today, we most likely would agree with Korach. Maybe not his methods, but certainly his statements about the people as a whole and equality. In that sense, Korach may actually be in the right. As believers and supporters of a democracy, we hold the ideal of a people who are equal and a government of, for and by the people.
The writers of the Parsha seem to take pains to ensure the absolute primacy of Moses and Aaron. Whether this actually happened as described is debatable. By the time the first temple was built, and most certainly by the time the second temple was in existence the priestly class was most interested in consolidating and maintaining its authority and privilege. Much like those in authority today act when their hold on power and wealth seems threatened.
The Wikipedia.com article on this Parsha says in part:
“The 20th century Reform Rabbi Gunther Plaut reported that source-critics saw two traditions in Numbers 16, a Korah rebellion directed against Aaron and Levitical privilege (assigned to the Priestly source), and an anti-Moses uprising led by Dathan and Abiram (assigned to the J/E source). Plaut wrote that the Korah story appears to reflect a struggle for priestly privilege in which Korah’s people, originally full priests and singers [as indicated in some of the Psalms], were after a power struggle reduced to doorkeepers. The story of the rebellion of Dathan, Abiram, and members of the tribe of Reuben, Plaut wrote, may represent the memory of an intertribal struggle in which the originally important tribe of Reuben was dislodged from its original preeminence.”
The pictures we get of Korach, Moses and Aaron have lots of shades of grey. Whichever way we look at it, as a member of the Temple Sinai Tuesday Morning Minyan pointed out in her recent D’var Torah on Korach, a core message of this Parsha is that each of us has good and bad in them. Neither Korach nor Moses and Aaron were completely one way or the other. Nor are we. How do we make sure we follow our good inclination?
We recite MI SHEBËRACH for the victims of brutality, abuse, fear, natural disasters, pandemics, violence, and war; for all those in need of physical, emotional, and mental healing. “R’fuah sh’lëmah” – a complete recovery!
We say KADDISH YATOM for those of our friends and families who have died and been buried this last week; those in the period of Sh’loshim (30 days since burial); those who have died in the last year; and those whose Yahrzeits/Anyos occur at this time; as well as the victims of brutality, disease, natural disasters, war and violence. We remember, too, those victims of the Shoah (Holocaust) who died at this time of year and have us to say “Kaddish” for them. “Zichronam liv’rachah” – May their memories be for blessing.
ONLINE SERVICES – 7 PM
Being a part of, contributing to and connecting with Temple Kol Hamidbar helps us fulfill our three-fold purpose as a Beit Tefillah (House of Prayer), a Beit Midrash (House of Study) and a Beit Knesset (House of Community).
Gathering in person is still sometime in the future. For the foreseeable future we will start our online Zoom Friday Evening Services at 7 PM.
Zoom continues to improve its security features. Some of our recent glitches seem to be related to upgrades implemented by Zoom. The new security features require users to download the latest version of Zoom onto their devices, which may require uninstalling any previous version(s) before installing the latest one.
Making sure you have the latest version of Zoom, please join us online this evening:
Topic: Erev Shabbat Service
Time: Jun 26, 2020 07:00 PM Arizona
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Shabbat Shalom – Buen Shabbat!