community lesson

June 27, 2022, Israel

This past week we read the Biblical story of Korah. To sum up; Korah was a powerful man, a wealthy man, a man with connections, a man close to the top. But it was not enough for him. He was jealous of Moshe/Moses and challenged his leadership. The story is discussed in the book of Numbers, chapter 16. He gathered 250 men of renown and marched on Moses to demand his rights. In the end Korah and his followers were punished by God and swallowed alive in an earthquake, many were burned alive and many more died in the subsequent plague. The story is told in 50 verses in Chapter 16.

I attended several events this past Sabbath, I heard rabbis speak in various synagogues, and I was a guest at several homes, at each the topic was the same; Korah and the lessons we can learn. Now it is traditional among Jews that each week each rabbi and each family discusses the weekly Torah reading, that portion of the Bible which is assigned to that week, so that in the course of a year the entire five books of Moses are read. 

There are some that say the Bible, the Torah, is no longer relevant, it is an outdated book, certainly not applicable to 2022, please, it was useful to our superstitious ancestors but it has no place in our lives other than literature. Those people could not be more wrong, but the Torah/Bible is as relevant today as they day these events took place. The lessons are the core of our daily lives. These are the words we live by. There is no book more relevant to 2022.

I think of my dear mother, may she rest in peace, and I dedicate these words to her. For she believed in community, and she is remembered here in her community where she was a beloved teacher, friend and neighbor. Her values were the essence of community and her values, of course, came from our tradition, the Biblical tradition. 

My mother gave to the community, she worked as a volunteer for 30 years, she gave to all. The phone rang all day, people, organizations, seeking money. My mother gave to them all. And then she had "her guys", the regulars who came to her door to ask for money, and then during hard times, many others came. No one left empty-handed, and she always offered a drink. 

This is the Torah, this is our tradition!

And so this week, Korah was on everyone's mind. An event that took place about 3,500 years ago, was still the talk of the town, in every home, in every synagogue, on the streets, and at the meals. Everyone asked, children asked, what was Korah lacking? Why was it not enough? Why could he not recognize all the good that Moses had done? "and they gathered themselves together against Moshe and against Aharon and said to them, You take too much for yourself, the entire congregation is holy, why do you raise yourself above others?"(verse 3)

and how did Moshe respond? with anger? No, with sadness, he fell on his face, he was so disappointed. He had devoted his entire life to his people and this was the gratitude. And even when God decreed the destruction of these rebels Moshe continue to plead on their behalf. "And they (Moshe and Aharon) fell upon their faces, and said, O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin and you will be angry with the entire community?"

Community. This past Sabbath our entire community was delving into the lessons of Korah, in each home, in each congregation, men expounded these lessons and raised questions. We talked about how to make a fine community, where people tolerate each other's noisy children, spicy cooking, parking issues etc. Everyone was trying to make the community better, stronger, more solidified. The lessons of the Torah/Bible were coming to life and inspiring everyone to work on community relationships. 

A man named David talked to us about a squabble between neighbors, and how when the time came for the wedding of the family that had been maligned, and hurt, this family went over the angry neighbor and personally delivered a wedding invitation. The woman who had been so angry became mollified and graciously accepted the invitation. She later checked her calendar and realized she had an important medical procedure on that day and could certainly not cancel it. She went over personally to the family to apologize, lest they be offended. (what a remarkable change from her previous animosity), and then listen to what happened next: the family of the girl getting married changed the date! Yes, they changed the date so that this woman, the angry neighbor, could attend. "Who is like thy nation Israel!"

And this is what we learn from the story of Korah, swallow your pride, push aside your ego, don't be jealous of others, reach out to your neighbor, your community. My mother did not know what it was to hold a grudge. She always expressed her great gratitude for having wonderful neighbors, for living in a wonderful community. She was part of this community. Each member makes the community. 

In martial arts we say your ego will get you killed. With business an ego will destroy your business, in friendships your ego will break the relationship, and with a community your ego will cause you to destroy a community. And today people complain that they live in a "bad neighborhood". But how did it become a bad neighborhood? by each person caring only about themselves and not about their neighbors. 

At each table, at every gathering, people were discussing how to avoid the pitfalls of argument and division. Speakers spoke with passion about avoiding conflict like avoiding the plague. People spoke of how nothing good comes from such disputes. The lesson of Korah and his gang is alive and well. The lessons of the Torah are relevant and applicable to our daily lives. and the example of my dear mother, may God rest her soul, shines brighter every day. 

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