Torah Reading: Numbers chapter 16 through 18.
Haftarah Reading: First Samuel 11:14 to 12:22.
This week's Torah reading recounts the Great Revolt against Moses's leadership led by his cousin Korach. The Bible quotes Korach's words of defiance to Moses and Aaron:
You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and the Lord is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the Lord's congregation?And Korach's allies, Datan and Abiram:
Numbers 16: 3.
Is it not enough that you brought us from a land flowing with milk and honey to have us die in the wilderness, that you would also lord it over us? Even if you had brought us to a land flowing with milk and honey, and given us possession of fields and vineyards, should you gouge out the people's eyes?The revolt was so powerful that Moses was unable to defeat it on his own, to suppress it he required Divine intervention:
Numbers 16: 13-14.
The ground beneath them burst asunder, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up with their households, all of Korach's people and all their possessions. They went down alive into Sheolah, with all that belonged to them, the earth closed over them and they vanished from the midst of the congregation.Follow me below the squiggly as I explain how Korach may have been the founder of the Tea Party movement.
Numbers 16: 31-33.
The rabbis of the Talmud constantly argued with one another, but there was at least one thing they did agree on - Korach was not a good guy and deserved what he got. Thus we read:
A controversy for Heaven's sake will have lasting value, but a controversy not for Heaven's sake will not endure.Early Medieval rabbis imagined Korach stirring up the downtrodden with false claims that he was their champion. In Numbers Rabbah 18:4, Korach complains about all the tithes and sacrifices Moses has imposed, and cries out, "You lay a heavier burden on us than the Egyptians did." In Midrash Tehillim, Korach stirs up the crowd by portraying a poor widow and her daughter whom Moses and Aaron have taxed and tithed into destitution. She is about to plow with the only two plow animals she owns, a horse and an ox, but Moses and Aaron tell her she cannot plow with two different animals. When she is about to shear the wool from her sheep, Moses and Aaron appear and take 1/10 of the wool. "You see," Korach shouts, "They are exploiting our poor and needy!" Not a word about tithes going to the poor as well as to the priests (see Deuteronomy 14: 28-29). Not a word about leaving the corners of your field and the fallen fruit and grapes for the poor (see Leviticus 19:9-10 and 23:22).
What is an example of a controversy for Heaven's sake? The debates between Hillel and Shammai.
What is an example of a controversy not for Heaven's sake? The rebellion of Korach and his associates.
If Korach had questioned the sacrificial rite and the need to tax for such a rite, we could remember him as the progenitor of Reform or even rabbinical Judaism, who had initiated "a controversy for Heaven's sake". After all, by the time those words in Avot were written, the Temple had been destroyed for a century, and prayer and good deeds had replaced sacrifices. But Korach was inciting the poor to follow him in destroying an incipient taxing and welfare system that was designed to keep the poor fed, clothed and housed - a taxing and welfare system that would greatly expand by the end of the Second Temple period in 70 CE, see e.g., Mishnah Shekalim 2:5 - while proposing nothing in its stead. Thus, the Korach portrayed by the midrash seems eerily prescient of the radicalized Republican Party of today.
No matter what we progressives have proposed, no matter what President Obama has proposed, we know that we will see Messrs. Boehner and McConnell and, until now, Cantor, parading before the cameras whining how Obama and the libruls and the Democrat Party are destroying jobs and hurting working families. Expand minimum wage, expand access to health care (and I can think of nothing more un-Jewish and un-Christian than blocking Medicaid expansion in their states, but that's another issue), require the wealthiest to pay their fair share of taxes, and their whining is the same. Could the Korach of the midrash have resurrected himself in today's Tea Party?