Rabbi's Weekly Message

A Message from Rabbi Wexler ~ Thursday, June 14

This week, as we read parashat Korah, we find ourselves approaching the middle of the book of Numbers. At this point in the journey, Moses and Aaron have successfully led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and through certain dangers in the wilderness. They are now relatively secure and they await their opportunity to move into the Promised Land. In the midst of this relative serenity, Korah, a Levite, rebels. He resents having to follow Moses and Aaron in all matters and challenges them with the powerful line: “all the community is holy, all of them, and the Lord is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s congregation?” (Numbers 16:3)

Korah’s challenges strikes at the heart of both our Jewish and our American democratic values. If all people are created equal, then why should any one person have authority over another? Why should some people have access to wealth, prestige, and influence in a way that others do not? Few people in America would challenge the value and importance of equality. Yet, what does equality mean? Judaism believes that we are indeed all equal in eyes of God, but that does not mean that we are all the same. To be equal in worth does not mean that we all have the same God-given abilities. Korah’s flaw was to confound equal worth with equal skills.

Korah was threatened by diversity and difference, yet Judaism is based precisely on the celebration of diversity and distinction. We can be different yet still be equal. Midrash BaMidbar Rabbah highlights this important lesson when it teaches that when God created the world, “God divided the light from the darkness in order that it might be of service to the world.” Korah’s approach would be to try to fuse the two, unable to appreciate the distinct contribution of each to the success of the world. But, we need both night and day. Then the midrash continues: “just as God distinguished the light from the darkness in order that it might be of service to the world, so to God made Israel distinct from other nations... and in the same manner, distinguished Aaron and Moses.”

Diversity, difference, and distinction are key elements of the human condition. Korah failed to understand this important lesson. As individuals and a Jewish community, we have distinct roles to play. It is not about being better than or isolating ourselves from others. Rather it is about celebrating diversity and the responsibility that we have to share our own unique voices, values, and beliefs with the world.