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Menachem Creditor

[Korach] The Morning After a Rebellion

Introduction:

The Torah portion of Korach presents a gripping narrative that includes the organized rebellion led by Korach himself. We have previously discussed the dangers of charismatic leadership, but now let us delve into a different aspect: the morning after. What must it have been like for the Israelite community to awaken after the rebellion? The destruction of Korach, Datan, Aviram, and the 250 elders who followed their treacherous revolt was accompanied by the Earth itself opening up and swallowing them whole. To witness such tyranny and its consequential demise raises questions about how a community moves forward and functions after experiencing such upheaval.

The United States of America, just a few years ago, faced a similar challenge. The aftermath of January 6’s destructive events demands the restoration of shared citizenship with those who have acted in dangerously divisive ways. It is important to recognize that the threat is not confined to recent times, as America has always contained an underbelly of societal anxiety and displacement, sometimes triggered by factors such as immigration or economic fears. Our failure to see each other as neighbors exacerbates this problem. When confronted with explosive moments akin to Korach’s rebellion, where the Earth itself cannot bear the pain any longer and engulfs it, how does a community proceed the next day?

The Plague and Aaron’s Role:

In our Parsha, the very next day after God’s miraculous intervention quells the rebellion, a plague looms over the entire community, represented in Midrash by the Angel of Death, sent by God. In this precarious situation, Aaron emerges as a significant figure. The biblical text describes him standing between life and death—a position perhaps shaped by his firsthand understanding of what transpires when a community descends into chaos and fear dominates as the most powerful shared sensibility. Aaron has witnessed community disintegration and may have even been seduced by it, as evidenced by his involvement in the golden calf incident, whose details remain unclear. Nonetheless, in this case he takes a stand between life and death, halting the Angel of Death’s advance. The Midrash even portrays him tightly gripping the angel, refusing to let it go.

Lessons for Modern Times:

In our modern context, as we strive to heal from events like the January 6 Insurrection and the ongoing internal struggles within American society, where some individuals are willing to tear down the rest of us, we can learn from Aaron’s example. We must position ourselves between life and death and boldly declare, “Stop!” It is crucial to recognize that engaging in acts of violence, fueled by unwavering conviction in one’s righteousness to the extent of harming others, negates any worthwhile cause. A flag becomes a weapon when anger and violent energy ripple through its wielder. National symbols and the identity of a people can be weaponized, underscoring the significance of fostering a healthy, unified community.

Conclusion:

In this week’s Parsha, Aaron embodies not only the pursuit of peace, for which he is renowned, but also the ability to learn from painful experiences. Holding a community together in healthy ways is essential, as failure to do so risks the disintegration of the very fabric of society. The conclusion is far from a neatly packaged resolution; instead, it is an acknowledgement of the underlying anxiety present in the text. Respecting life begins with loving our neighbors, and this becomes impossible when we fail to view them as equally worthy recipients of that life. It is imperative to stand with sensitivity as a stabilizing force for the community, just as Aaron did. Instead of attributing this responsibility to a single individual, let us collectively embody the Aaron impulse. Let us remember that our neighbors deserve love and life, regardless of political affiliations or differing viewpoints. America, at its best, manifests an expression of loving one’s neighbor as much as oneself, leaving no one behind and ensuring that no one is forgotten. As we move forward into each day, let us carry a sense of introspection and examine our own attitudes towards those with whom we disagree.

It is natural to approach this task with a degree of anxious energy, given the challenges we face. Yet, within this anxiety lies an opportunity for growth and transformation. By acknowledging our own biases and preconceptions, we can cultivate a greater understanding of the perspectives of others. We can engage in productive dialogue, seeking common ground and working towards shared goals.

The journey towards unity and reconciliation begins with each individual taking personal responsibility for their actions and attitudes. It starts with recognizing the inherent worth and dignity of every human being, regardless of their background or beliefs. It requires us to transcend the boundaries of our own self-interests and extend empathy and compassion to all members of our community.

Moving forward, let us strive to be agents of change and ambassadors of unity. Let us reject the divisive rhetoric that seeks to tear us apart and instead embrace the principles of respect, tolerance, and inclusivity. By standing together as a collective, we can bridge the gaps that separate us and help rebuild a society where every voice is heard, valued, and respected.

Parshat Korach teaches us profound lessons about the morning after a tumultuous event. It reminds us of the importance of healing, rebuilding, and recommitting ourselves to the principles of community and unity. The narrative of Aaron standing between life and death serves as a powerful symbol of our collective responsibility to safeguard the well-being and harmony of our society. Let us carry this wisdom with us as we navigate the complexities of our modern world, always striving to be the forces of love, understanding, and healing that our communities need.

About the Author
Rabbi Menachem Creditor serves as the Pearl and Ira Meyer Scholar in Residence at UJA-Federation New York and was the founder of Rabbis Against Gun Violence. An acclaimed author, scholar, and speaker with over 2 million views of his online videos and essays, he was named by Newsweek as one of the fifty most influential rabbis in America. His 31 books and 6 albums of original music include "A Year of Torah," the global anthem "Olam Chesed Yibaneh" and the COVID-era 2-volume anthology "When We Turned Within." He and his wife Neshama Carlebach live in New York, where they are raising their five children.
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