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    The best possible you – Korach

    June 6th, 2021

    The death of Korach & his followers

    The Torah reading focusses on the dispute between Moses and Korach.

    Both came from the same tribe of Levi, but dissension bitterly divided them. The Torah clearly sides with Moses and has a poor opinion of Korach and his henchmen.

    You would think that what divided them was ideology but that did not seem to be the problem at all. Both sides believed in God, both regarded Israel as a holy people, both had their ethical priorities. Had they all agreed on everything it would have been shalom al Yisra’el.

    The problem was that the Korach company were not clamouring to be themselves but to be interchangeable with Moses and his men (Num. 16:10), whereas God had given each group its own place, its own priorities, its own purpose.

    God said, as it were, “Korach, I don’t expect you to be Moses; I expect you to be Korach. You have a role to play, but it is your own role. You must not steal Moses’ task but perform your own. Let Moses be Moses – the best possible Moses he can be. Your task is to be the best possible Korach!”

    There is a Chassidic saying that in time to come no-one will ask why I was not Moses or why I was not Abraham… what they will ask is why I was not myself!


    No repentance – Korach

    June 6th, 2021

    The death of Korach, by Charles Foster, 1873

    The sages point out that some of Korach’s camp deserted him and some of his sons regretted their support of their father. They repented – but Korach didn’t.

    The Torah does not spell out the details, but one can read between the lines that Korach remained adamant (though some of the rabbis say that on the spot where the earth opened and swallowed Korach, a voice may be heard saying, “Moses and his supporters have the truth, and Korach and his company are liars”).

    It is a good thought for this time of the year as the calendar moves on towards Ellul and Tishri, the months of the Three Rs – remorse, repentance and return.

    Being adamant and stiff-necked is the sign of the sinner who cannot move out of his rut.

    Blessed is the man whose children are sorry for their father’s lapses. Blessed is the man whose children repent on his behalf.

    This suggests the true interpretation of the verse in the Ten Commandments that is usually understood as saying that “God visits the sins of the fathers upon the children”. Actually what the verse may be saying is that God recognises in the children the repentance they perform for the sins committed by the fathers.


    Order of spies – Sh’lach L’cha

    May 30th, 2021

    The spies bring back their report, from a 1907 Bible card

    Twelve spies were sent into the Promised Land to check out its nature (Num. 13:2).

    Nachmanides says their names are listed in the Torah in order of personal status. This presents us with a problem, since Joshua, who was destined to become Moses’ successor, did not top the list, though we would have thought this was the appropriate way to acknowledge him.

    Sforno disagrees with Nachmanides and thinks the spies were of equal status but they were listed according to age.

    In tractate Sotah, the Talmud has a further suggestion, that the listing reflected the outcome of their mission and followed the men’s contribution to national history.


    The Land eats its inhabitants – Sh’lach L’cha

    May 30th, 2021

    One of the worst and most frightening things that the spies reported when they came back from their mission was that the land “eats its inhabitants” (Num. 13:32).

    These words are explained by some of the commentators as saying that the soil of the land was so hard and the climate so harsh that no-one could settle down there and expect to lead an ordinary calm life. The effort to till the land was beyond the capacity of most people and it overwhelmed them to the extent that sometimes they died in the attempt.

    Whether this description of Eretz Yisra’el was justified and truthful is highly doubtful. Though Caleb argued to the contrary, assuring the people that if God supported them they would be alright, the majority of the spies embroidered the facts and invented difficulties which disheartened the people.


    Agents of Moses – Sh’lach L’cha

    May 30th, 2021

    The return of the spies, by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, c. 1851

    Chapter 13 of B’midbar is an example of the law of agency. Moses carried out the investigation at the Almighty’s command by means of agents.

    The notion of agency is that A can perform a legal act by means of B so the act will be recognised as the legal act of A. The Hebrew phrase is Shelucho shel adam kemoto, “a person’s agent is as himself”.

    Jewish law utilised the idea from an early period in its history. In Exodus 12 the paschal sacrifice is offered by means of agency. In a worship service conducted by a cantor or officiant, the latter is the sh’liach tzibbur, the agent of the congregation.

    Anything the principal can do himself can be done by an agent, but this does not apply to the commission of an offence. The rule is ein shaliach lid’var aveirah, “one may not appoint a shaliach to commit a transgression” (Kiddushin 43b).