Korach: Numbers ch 16 – ch 19
Haftarah: I Samuel 11:14- 12:22
This week’s Torah portion and haftarah reading are both about challenges to leadership.
The illustration is inspired by a woodcut from a book by Isaac ben Solomon ibn Abi Sahulah. Isaac ben Solomon was a scholar and Hebrew poet born in Castile in 1244. He noticed that Jews were reading and being influenced by books like “The Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor” and “Kalila and Dimna” (fables from India). To counter the effects of these non-Jewish texts Isaac wrote his own book of stories, poems, fables and parables called “Meshal ha-Kadmoni”. The “Meshal ha-Kadmoni” was so popular it was reprinted six times in Hebrew and nine times in Yiddish! My painting is based on a a reprint of “Meshal ha-Kadmoni” (The Ancient Proverb) from Southern Germany, 1450. The picture shows Samuel speaking to Saul. (Click on the image to enlarge it.)
In the Torah reading Korach, a priest, gathered 250 followers and challenged Moshe’s authority. Korach thought it was presumptuous of Moshe and Aaron to retain leadership of the Israelites. He said, “You take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them…” The accusation was particularly galling since Korach and his followers were already distinguished as men of note with special roles.
Later in the parsha there was another rebellion, this one questioning Aaron’s leadership. Gd proscribed a test where each tribe inscribed a wooden staff with its name then put the rod into the Tent of Meeting. The rod of the true leader would sprout leaves over night. The next morning Moshe brought out the twelve rods. Not only had Aaron’s rod sprouted leaves but it had flowering buds and almonds on the staff.
The haftarah repeats the theme of challenging the “Establishment”. The Israelites wanted a King so they would be like all the other nations. The change wasn’t being sought for positive, constructive purposes. Rather the change was being pursued so that the Israelites would be like the other nations. Similarly Korach’s goal was not the improvement of his people. His goal was self promotion and personal power.
The issues of self-interest and personal power are issues that plague us to this day. To create a healthy society and a healthy world we have to hope our leaders have the right goals. Unfortunately often that is not the reality. So- we have to pursue the right path ourselves and endeavor to make the world a better place through our own fair and caring actions.
I am blessed to be part of a community of educators, activists, and caregivers who devote large amounts of time to improving the world. Hopefully through their actions and our actions we will see peace, justice and equality in the world sooner rather than later.
Have a Shabbat Shalom,