Just last week, the Torah portion spoke of the scouts sent by Moses to survey the land of Canaan and bring back a report to the people. Two of the scouts, Caleb and Joshua, spoke up, “L’shem Shamyim,” for the sake of heaven.
They placed their lives in jeopardy on behalf of an idea. They correctly perceived that the future destiny of the Jewish people literally hung in the balance. The choices were clear to them. Would the Israelites remain consigned to wander in the wilderness, a Bedouin people, or would they fulfill the historic mission of settling Eretz Yisrael? Caleb and Joshua acted on behalf of history, with great personal danger to their own well being. They had nothing to gain for themselves.
The main characters of this morning’s sedra, Korach, Dathan and Avirom are rebels whose rebellion is not for the sake of heaven, not for some lofty ideal, but rather for their own aggrandizement. Korach, a Levite from the clan of Kohat based his rivalry around his desire to enter the Kahuna, the priesthood, while Dathan and Avirom formed an alliance with Korach because of the ancient claim of leadership of the first born, they were of the tribe of Reuben, the first born of Jacob.
Moses challenged Korach and his followers to submit their grievances publicly, but they refused, saying, “We will not come.” They continued their campaign of murmuring and making vague accusations of abuses by Moses and Aaron.
Biblical law respects the right of the governed to demand a change in government, as evidenced in this morning’s haftorah. We can relate to these verses from the Book of Samuel, as our country struggles with the events of the past weeks and the attempts to hold those responsible for the unwarranted killings of our fellow Black Americans.
Representatives of the tribes come to Samuel and say to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not follow in your ways. Make us a king in the manner of all nations.”
Samuel harkened to God’s advice to “listen to the voice of the people with respect to all that they say to you.”
The Bible explicitly affirms that protest and questioning are legitimate when revolving around a just cause that exists amid real grievances. Our Jewish tradition remains intent on encouraging the governed to remind the governors, “rav lachem,” you take too much unto yourselves, persons of power. The art of good government, so needed at this juncture in our country, is to guarantee and maintain a workable, mutually supportive, give-and-take arrangement between the people and their leaders, with checks and balances operative to ensure a just society.
Rabbi Sheldon W. Switkin of Bexley is visiting rabbi at Shaaray Torah Synagogue in Canton.