Assemble!

Hebrew, especially biblical Hebrew, is funny. For example, this week’s Torah portion starts (Exodus 35:1) with the word vayakhel, spelled ויקהל: “Moses assembled the whole Israelite congregation.” But those exact letters in last week’s portion (ibid. 32:1) were read vayikahel: “The nation massed upon Aaron and said, ‘Come, make us gods who will go before us.'” The shift from passive to causative (for all you grammar freaks) changes the tenor: from an amorphous mob demanding a new god to an orderly community united in purpose.

The word ויקהל appears only one more time in all of the Torah, in Numbers 16:19: “Korah assembled (vayakhel) the whole congregation upon them at the entrance to the tent of meeting.” Korah, cousin to Moses and Aaron, is leading a rebellion against them, ostensibly for religious purposes: “For all in the congregation are holy, and the Lord is in their midst, so why raise yourselves up over the assembly of the Lord?” Nevertheless, even though he is supposed to be standing with a firepan in order to have an incense-off with Aaron and prove this point, Korah is busy running around, riling up the crowd so he’ll have an audience. Presumably for this reason, the Sages point to him as the paragon of insincere divisiveness (Mishna, Avot 5:17).

In addition, he makes an alliance with Dathan and Abiram, whose criticism of Moses is purely about the land:

We will not come! Isn’t it enough that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the wilderness? And now you also want to lord it over us! Moreover, you haven’t brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey or given us an inheritance of fields and vineyards. Will you poke our eyes out? No, we will not come!

Now, I have a soft spot for Dathan (probably because he’s played by the only Jewish actor in The Ten Commandments, Edward G. Robinson [though a Jewish actress, Olive Deering, plays Miriam]), but that sounds pretty nuts. In fact, D&A’s nationalist critique seems to have nothing to do with Korah and Company’s theological critique. And yet they form an alliance. In fact, they build a “tabernacle of Korah, Dathan and Abiram.” You might even call them a Technical Bloc (my nickname in the Army). D&A, true believers, put their families on the line; Korah, in the meantime, cannot convince his own sons to stick with him. Ultimately, the rebellion fails in a spectacular pyrotechnic (Korah’s men) and seismic (D&A) denouement.

That’s all I can think of as I consider the ill-advised union of the Jewish Home and Jewish Power parties. The former used to be the National Religious Party, which supposedly represented “my” sector, the Religious Zionists. The latter is the latest iteration of Kahanism. Some want to defend this merger of theocrats and ethnocrats by arguing that it’s no biggie. After all, Michael Ben-Ari, head of Jewish Power, banned from entering the US as a terrorist, was in Knesset as recently as 2013.  And what about those Arab parties?

Ignoring the fact that “those Arab parties” represent a wide range of views, they at least raise the banner of democracy, not ethnic supremacy. Their members have endorsed or winked at violence against Israeli authorities, but unfortunately many right-wingers, far beyond Jewish Power, have done just that, in word and deed, against Israeli police, soldiers and the courts.

Far more important than that, though, is the active role that Prime Minister Netanyahu has taken: brokering the alliance, promising cabinet posts, guaranteeing a spot on the judicial appointments committee and signing a deal to share votes with this new alliance. Sure, why shouldn’t the new Education Minister be a “proud homophobe” who thinks his wife shouldn’t have to give birth in the same ward as Arab mothers? Why shouldn’t the new Housing and Construction Minister be the guy who threatened to bring a D9 bulldozer to raze the Supreme Court? I cannot stress enough that these statements were made not by the Jewish Power faction, but by those who now sit in Knesset representing the “moderate” Jewish Home!

So, here’s what we’re gonna do on Motzaei Shabbat Vayakhel: we are going to assemble, across from the PM’s Residence in Jerusalem, against Kahanism–not just one faction, Jewish Power, but the rot at the heart of Israeli politics which Netanyahu has decided not only to let fester, but to help foster.

I hope you’ll join us. Firestorm and earthquake not guaranteed.

About the Author
Yoseif Bloch is a rabbi who has taught at Yeshivat HaKotel, Yeshivat Har Etzion and Yeshivat Shvilei Hatorah and served as a congregational rabbi in Canada. He currently works as an editor, translator and publisher. As a blogger and podcaster, he is known as Rabbi Joe in Jerusalem.
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