Kenneth Brander
Kenneth Brander
President and Rosh HaYeshiva, Ohr Torah Stone

From devastation to transformation: Owning our adversity (Parshat Korach)

TRANSCRIPT

The horrific scenes from last month in the Israeli city of Lod – synagogues being set afire as Sifrei Torah and holy books lie strewn on the floor – have been forever etched into our collective memory.

And the wounds — psychological and physical — from altercations between Jewish and Arab neighbors in that city, will take time to heal.

But out of the pain in this fractured city has come some inspiring responses from our students at Midreshet Lindenbaum’s campus in Lod.

They entertained local children with carnivals and games so parents could go to work; they helped staff the community’s situation room during night shifts so other residents could sleep; they boxed up possessions salvaged from rubble in burnt apartments; they cleaned up apartments that had been vandalized; and they began to raise money to rebuild a burned Talmud Torah.

Perhaps the spirit driving these acts of love and compassion are best expressed in the words of Carmel Levi, an 18-year-old student at Midreshet Lindenbaum-Lod, who said:

“I chose to spend this year learning Torah specifically in the city of Lod because here, I can learn Torah in a family-like atmosphere and really be part of what’s happening in Israel — even in times of trouble. Despite everything that happened, we won’t give up on Lod.”

These inspiring words and actions, which demonstrate a deeply-rooted sense of Ahavat Yisrael and Ahavat HaBriot, also reflect the quintessentially Jewish tradition of transforming devastation into redemption, an example of which we find in our parsha, Korach.

250 leading figures among the Jewish people challenge the leadership of Moshe and Aharon. (Numbers 16:2-3)

In the subsequent contest to authenticate if Moshe and Aharon are indeed the chosen leaders, Korach and his rebellious followers must take their firepans and place incense before God, as do Moshe and Aharon. (Numbers 16: 16-18)

The result is decisive:

וְאֵשׁ יָצְאָה מֵאֵת הֹ’ וַתֹּאכַל אֵת הַחֲמִשִּׁים וּמָאתַיִם אִישׁ מַקְרִיבֵי הַקְּטֹרֶת

And a fire went forth from God and consumed the 250 men offering the incense. (Numbers 16:35)

What is most perplexing is what happens to these firepans, the very items that were used in their campaign to overthrow Moshe and Aharon, essentially a rebellion against God.

I would have assumed that these firepans would have been destroyed along with the people who participated in the rebellion.

After all, these items are spiritually radioactive, to be placed in a spiritual nuclear containment facility, decommissioned and destroyed.

However, the opposite occurs!

Here’s what God instructs Elazar, the son of Aharon and heir to the priestly leadership of the Jewish people:

וְיָרֵם אֶת הַמַּחְתֹּת מִבֵּין הַשְּׂרֵפָה וְאֶת הָאֵשׁ זְרֵה הָלְאָה כִּי קָדֵשׁוּ׃

…remove (literally, lift up) the firepans – for they have become sacred – from among the charred remains; and scatter the coals. (Numbers 17:2)

Elazar is then to take these firepans from the rebellious group and hammer them into sheets of bronze, to be used as plating for the mizbe’ach, the altar.

These firepans, which had been used in religious rebellion, are now considered sacred, to be used in service to God.

What a powerful message for each and every one of us.

When we face setbacks or difficult ordeals, we try hard to put them behind us, to discard them from our consciousness as much as possible.

But while that may help to temporarily ease our pain, there is another, exceedingly difficult but rewarding path that we can take, and that is transformation.

Not only were the firepans not destroyed, they were transformed into a vessel that represents our capacity to sacrifice, engage with and find redemption from God.

As our inspiring students in Lod teach us, we are not to run away, but rather to transform darkness into light, in order to live more joyful, productive and more meaningful lives.

Shabbat Shalom.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander is President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone, an Israel-based network of 30 educational and social action programs transforming Jewish life, living and leadership in Israel and across the world. He is the rabbi emeritus of the Boca Raton Synagogue and founder of the Katz Yeshiva High School. He served as the Vice President for University and Community Life at Yeshiva University and has authored many articles in scholarly journals.
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