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Korach 5766

Korach (Numbers 16-18 )

by Kalman Packouz

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GOOD MORNING! I am blessed with many wonderful colleagues in Aish HaTorah - committed, intelligent, responsible, creative individuals dedicated to reaching out, educating and making our heritage accessible to all Jews. One of my colleagues, Rabbi Nachum Braverman, has written a fascinating book, The Bible For The Clueless But Curious, to transmit the wisdom of the Bible (the 5 Books of Moses) to people who are allergic to "Thees" and "Thous." It is perfect for this generation - short, to the point "wisdom bites." He even has icons to clue the reader whether the section focuses on "Spirituality," "Insights into Life's Most Important Relationships," "What's Going On," "Wisdom for Living," "Deeper Meanings." (The book is available from your local Jewish bookstore, at or by calling toll-free to 877-758-3242.)

In the back of his book, Rabbi Braverman has "Thirty-two Frequently Asked Questions About the Bible, Religion and Judaism." I think of it as the "One Minute Primer for Judaism." I thought it would be worthwhile to share some of his "Q's and A's."

Isn't religion for people who aren't willing to think for themselves?

In most areas of knowledge, rote memorization of basic information lays the foundation for higher reasoning. You didn't discover the number system, the alphabet, the laws of grammar, arithmetic, or the postulates of geometry yourself. No doctor derives the laws of organic chemistry or of pharmacology for himself. The foundation of knowledge we learn from others permits us to learn for ourselves.

The same is true with religion. The Bible states spiritual and moral postulates. Applying those principles - deciding which applies, when, and how - is the ultra-hard work of thinking that makes each of us unique.

Aren't religious people smug, self-satisfied, and dogmatic?

I think that this is actually a slur and not a question, but let's try it anyway.

Because being pigheaded is easier than thinking, smug dogmatism is a human failing. Religious people are human; ergo, they are sometimes smug and dogmatic. The only antidote is being reasonable.

In the words of the philosopher Quine:

"To believe something is to believe that it is true; therefore a reasonable person believes each of his beliefs to be true; yet experience has taught him to expect that some of his beliefs, he knows not which, will turn out to be false. A reasonable person believes, in short, that each of his beliefs is true and that some of them are false." (Quidditties)

What happens when the Bible conflicts with human reason? What if God tells you to do something you think is immoral - like sacrifice your son, or fling yourself into a mine field screaming, "Allah Akbar!"?

The first question is whether God is really talking, if you're overly imaginative or schizophrenic. If it is God talking, then we assume God is right (it's one of the perks of the job). If you think God is wrong, it's possible you're not seeing the whole picture. Imagine, for example, watching three people pin someone to a table and cut his leg off. You need history and context to know whether you're watching surgery or torture. The story of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac explores this very difficult question.

Who cares? So what? Why should I read this book at all?

Here's a high-class question.

Do you want to be happy? Do you want a good marriage and well-adjusted children? Do you want meaning? Is it easy to achieve these things? Show me someone who thinks life is straightforward, and I'll show you a two-year-old. For 3,300 years, people have read the Bible for insight. That suggests the Bible's answers to life's questions are worth thinking about.

I'm happy. Why should I get involved with religion?

They say you can never be too rich or too thin (which explains why many people are neurotic and their kids are anorexic). But it probably is true that you can't be too happy or too wise.

Put differently, a business that becomes complacent when things go well won't be in business very long.

How could a book that's 3,300 years old be relevant to my life?

Ever read Plato? Aristotle? Sophocles? Shakespeare? In Athens, Portland, or cyberspace, life's key challenges haven't changed much in the past several millennia. Classics are timeless whether you wear a ring in your nose, your ear, or your belly button.

For more on "Rabbi Braverman on the Bible, Religion and Judaism" go to!

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Torah Portion of the Week

There are two rebellions this week. First, Korach, a Levite who was passed over for the leadership of his tribe, challenges Moshe over the position of High Priest. No good rebellion can be "sold" as a means for personal gain, so Korach convinces 250 men of renown that they must stand up for a matter of principle - that each and every one of them has the right to the office of High Priest (which Moshe had announced that God had already designated his brother, Aharon, to serve).

Fascinatingly, all 250 followers of Korach accept Moshe's challenge to bring an offering of incense to see who God will choose to fill the one position. This meant that every man figured he would be the one out of 250 to not only be chosen, but to survive the ordeal. Moshe announces that if the earth splits and swallows up the main rebels it is a sign that he (Moshe) is acting on God's authority. And thus it happened! Then a fire came from before God and consumed the 250 followers of Korach.

The next day the entire Israelite community rises in a second rebellion and complains to Moshe, "You have killed God's people!" The Almighty brings a plague which kills 14,700 people and only stops when Aharon offers an incense offering.

To settle the question once and for all, Moshe has the head of each tribe bring a staff with his name on it. The next morning only Aharon's staff had blossomed and brought forth almonds. The people were shown this sign. Aharon's staff was placed in front of the curtain of the ark as testimony for all time.

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah learns from the verse,

"You shall not act similar to Korach and his company" (Numbers 17:5),

that it is forbidden to maintain pointless disputes. Disputes contain within them many other serious transgressions -unwarranted hatred, defamatory speech, tale bearing, anger, insults, humiliations, revenge, grudges, curses and the desecration of God's name.

If one finds himself in the midst of a dispute, he should withdraw immediately. It takes two to fight. Ask yourself if this dispute really makes a difference. Usually it doesn't. The sages say, "It is better for a person to be considered a fool throughout his entire life by man, than to be considered wicked for one moment in the eyes of God." (Talmud, Eiduyos 5:6)

It is a big mitzvah to stop a feud. One should make every effort to succeed in bringing peace. It is important to train children at a very young age to avoid quarrels. Children have a tendency to grow angry and fight over trivial matters and unless this trait is corrected, it can become ingrained.

Although we should try to avoid disputes in personal matters, we must stand up for true matters of principle which make a difference to society, morality and justice.

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It is much easier to be
critical than correct.

In Loving Memory of
Arthur Weiss (Asher ben Leib)
With deep appreciation,
Geoff Frisch

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