For the week ending 12 June 2021 / 2 Tamuz 5781

Parashat Korach

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Korach, Datan and Aviram, and 250 leaders of Israel rebel against the authority of Moshe and Aharon. The rebellion results in their being swallowed by the earth. Many resent their death and blame Moshe. G-d's "anger" is manifest by a plague that besets the nation, and many thousands perish. Moshe intercedes once again for the people. He instructs Aharon to atone for them and the plague stops.

Then, G-d commands that staffs, each inscribed with the name of one of the tribes, be placed in the Mishkan. In the morning, the staff of Levi, bearing Aharon's name, sprouts, buds, blossoms and yields ripe almonds. This provides Divine confirmation that Levi's tribe is chosen for priesthood and verifies Aharon's position as Kohen Gadol, High Priest. The specific duties of the levi'im and kohanim are stated. The kohanim were not to be landowners, but were to receive their sustenance from the tithes and other mandated gifts brought by the people. Also taught in this week's Torah portion are the laws of the first fruits, redemption of the firstborn and various laws of offerings.


A “Shayne Gelechte

“And Korach took…” (16:1)

One of the few maxims in my sparse Yiddish lexicon is “a shayne gelechte.” Literally translated, it means “"A fine laugh," but idiomatically we would translate it something like, “If it didn't make you cry, you'd have to laugh.”

The Israeli political scene is a shayne gelechte. I've never been political, and my indifference — and sometimes hostility — to politics and politicians has been borne by a political system where we are either about to have the fifth election in two years or a coalition government so broadly-based that if you were to stand at the left-hand side of it, you'd need a telescope to see the right. And in between there's a vast floppy underbelly waiting to crash down on a hapless electorate.

By rights, this Holy Land should be ruled by those who are the least selfish, the least power-hungry, the most noble and the most honest.

We love democracy, but, presumably, the democratization of our lives has its limits: I’m not sure how many of us would submit to extensive invasive surgery based on a straw-poll taken on Twitter or Facebook. The idea that if you ask enough people a question, you’re bound to come up with the right answer, is inimical to Torah thought. The spiritual Masters teach that “The wisdom of the Torah is the opposite of the man in the street.”

Our esteemed Rosh HaYeshiva, HaRav Nota Schiller, shlita, once observed: “The Torah is a democracy of opportunity and an aristocracy of opinion.” Anyone can open a Talmud and start to learn. However, for your opinion to be significant, it must pass a self-policing system of peer approval that validates only the most expert.

And who are the most expert? To me, there is no perceptible difference between Mount Everest and K2, but K2 knows that Everest is taller than it. And thus it is with our Gedolei HaDor. When it comes to the great ones of the generation, each one knows who is more outstanding and in which areas he excels.

I suppose you could translate the phrase shayne gelechte with the English word “farce” — and that about sums up the state of the Israeli political system.

In 1887, Hon. John Dalberg-Acton wrote: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.”

Our great Torah Sages sanctify the positions they hold, and not the reverse.

Possibly one of the most egregious power-grabs in history is revealed in this week's Torah portion. Korach, posing as a champion of the masses with consummate political skill, engineers a rebellion purely for his own ends, and manages to convince, among others, two hundred and fifty of the most august and important leaders of the people.

Joseph Goebbels (y"sh) said, "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus, by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

If that isn't a shayne gelechte, I don't know what is.

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