Korach is easily caricatured. ... In the biblical text of Parashat Korach, and in much of the Jewish interpretive tradition, Korach is a jealous demagogue, stirring up rebellion against Moses and Aaron in the desert.
The Torah reading for this Shabbat from the Book of Exodus tells of the Israelites’ successful flight from slavery in Egypt. As we hear the chanting of the exultant Song at the Sea recalling that triumphant escape, let us continue to draw strength from Torah in facing challenges today.
The Torah portion for Yom Rishon shel Pesach tells us that the night the Israelites prepared to leave Egypt, "was for the Eternal a night of vigil." The vigil continues, and our Festival begins with the seder to retell the story of our redemption. Our seders are usually full of singing. Even so, may we look for opportunities to sing more often. May we more regularly allow song to inspire us to have hope and faith.
In Ki Tisa, Moses, begs God to let him understand the Divine. And yet, we see Moses as having more access to God than any other man. If Moses cannot comprehend God, how can we hope to understand God’s ways?
In Ki Tisa, when God says to Moses, Hinei makom Iti, "Here is a place with me," God may have been pointing Moses to the perfect spot in the cleft in the rock. For the rest of us, spread across the earth, who might wish for a place by God, Ki Tisa directs us, as well. For us, Shabbat can be this place.
In Parashat Bo, the plagues continue with increasing intensity. As the Egyptians and the Israelites learn to recognize God’s power, is it possible that God, too, is learning to make each successive plague more effective?
With the increasing severity of the ten plagues in Bo, God is teaching the Egyptians, the Israelites, and us, an important lesson. Through an understanding of God’s power, we can see the inextricable link between nature and collective morality. As our planet and so many people all over the world suffer from the weight of our collective decisions as humankind to consume without regard to consequences, we are called in this parashah to reexamine our own relationship with God and our humble place in the cosmos, and to realign ourselves with goodness and life for the sake of all Creation.
In Va-eira, Moses tries to speak with the Israelites, who cannot listen due to their kotzer ruach, which can mean “shortness of breath” or “crushed spirit.” Both are results of debilitating work that prevents the Israelites from looking up to see new possibilities.
In Va-eira, we learn that the Israelites suffer from spiritual inertia. They are not the only ones. Pharaoh, too, hardened his heart during the first five plagues, after which it became difficult for him to change. We, too, can get stuck in a pattern of behavior that makes it hard to change. One small lie begets a second lie, and then a third and a fourth, until we’re no longer even sure where the truth lies.
In this week’s Torah portion, Balak, the king of Moab, Balak, is afraid that the Israelites’ encampment will ravish his land. He seeks to have a diviner named Balaam curse the Israelites. But God turns the curses to blessings.
This week's portion, Balak, provides an example of how we can subvert anger with humor. The prophet Balaam endeavors to drive the donkey and gets incensed when she does not budge. We the readers see the humor of the situation in which a donkey can see an angel of God who blocks her way while the "prophet" cannot.
In Parashat Korach, Moses’ cousin, Korach leads a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, demanding, “All the community are holy ... Why then do you raise yourselves above the Eternal’s congregation?” (Numbers 16:3). Often, Korach’s actions are interpreted to be the jealous behavior of one who sees himself as entitled to power. But what if his behavior reflects something different — a feeling of helplessness and a fear of being disenfranchised?
While Korach’s actions are often interpreted as jealous power-seeking behavior, his behavior may also reflect feelings of helplessness and being disenfranchised. Even in our own day, we see the destructive consequences of not taking seriously the concerns of those who feel disenfranchised. Perhaps, if we all listen more and assume less, we will find our shared divinity and harness our collective power to create the world we want to live in.
In Parashat Ki Tisa, the Israelites wait for Moses to return from the mountaintop. Feeling insecure with a lack of leadership, they tell Aaron to create a Golden Calf.
One of the lessons of Parashat Ki Tisa is that we need concrete reminders, symbols, of our fundamental ideas. But while we embrace them we have to remember that these symbols — whether they be physical, ritual, textual, or other — exist for us, not for God.
The research abounds: birth order has an impact on development. The Internet teems with articles on expected personality traits for firstborn and later-born children and, in a rare moment of consensus, experts agree that birth order matters.1 It influences a child’s need for attention, interest in interacting with adults versus peers, reactions to challenge and pressure, and relationship with parents. As the mother of two young sons (and a firstborn myself), I see evidence of this research daily and often wonder how birth order will affect my children’s lives.
Birth order matters in Parashat Bo, too. Bo begins with the final four plagues, culminating in that infamous, horrifying last plague: makat b’chorot, the killing of the firstborn. God takes this concept to its extreme, condemning every single firstborn — whether human or animal — to perish. The Israelite firstborns were saved by placing lambs’ blood on their doors.
This week’s Torah portion forces us to consider the following: Is being the oldest child, the firstborn, really a reward? Or is it an obligation?
Indeed, as Rabbi Bonnheim suggests, symbolically, we all have the opportunity to be the firstborn as the Torah teaches, “Israel is My first-born son” (Exodus 4:22). But wasn’t Esau the firstborn? What then is the meaning of the verse? Our ancient tradition offers the following response: “It refers to Jacob, their ancestor, who purchased the birthright in order that he might serve God” (Sh’mot Rabbah 5:7).
Parashat Va-eira is all action: the first six plagues descend on Egypt, and Pharaoh responds in kind, creating the dramatic and suspenseful story that will culminate in God redeeming the Israelite slaves from Egypt. The plagues are high drama, a fast-moving blockbuster film.
Blood. Frogs. Lice. Insects. Pestilence. Boils. My skin crawls and my scalp itches just writing about this batch of creepy, crawly, infectious plagues. The six plagues in Va-eira come in two sets of three plagues each (blood, frogs and lice; insects, pestilence and boils). In each set, Pharaoh is forewarned about the first two plagues and surprised by the third.1 And after each set, he refuses to free the Israelites.
The people of Israel were not the only ones who needed a powerful reminder of God’s power and character. The memory and heritage of God’s personal connection with their ancestors had clearly dimmed in the generations of their servitude in Egypt, but the Israelites never forgot their core identity as a distinct people. Yet God’s chosen leader for the people was ignorant even of that basic tenet of the Israelite identity.