General, Parasha / E-Letter

Parashat Korach: The miracle we really need

2 Comments 22 June 2017

In his dvar Torah to Parashat Korach, Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom warns us of the immorality of collective punishment, and reminds us of our responsibility to pursue peace in a time when war and terrible suffering seem to be lurking just around the corner. 

By Al Jazeera English - War in Gaza 023, CC BY-SA 2.0

Photo:  Al Jazeera English – War in Gaza 023, CC BY-SA 2.0

By Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom

An ancient desert story: Moses’ leadership is threatened, God provides a miracle that kills the sinners, and Aaron intercedes to save lives. In this week’s reading (Numbers 16-18) Korach and his band rebel, God restores order, Moses retains his leadership and Aaron, his priesthood. Familiar themes – the Exodus from Egypt, the Golden Calf episode. The harder we look, the less we CAN accept: Moses is a wrathful tyrant supported by the God of might; democratic challenges to power are suppressed with violence, and innocent lives perish in collective punishment. (I do love Aaron’s intercession that stops the plague that killed thousands).

Regular readers of this column are well aware that Jewish morality has evolved from biblical times through the rabbinic period into the modern era. Thus, in the matter of collective punishment, post-biblical Midrash takes pains to inform us that Korach’s wife played an active role in the rebellion, and was therefore no less guilty than the rest of the band, and the Bible itself informs us that Korach’s children survived the episode (Numbers 26:10, perhaps to explain the headings of many Psalms in which Bnai Korach feature). But collective punishment is taking place these very moments right before our eyes, and it’s the job of this column and this organization to make sure it is not out of sight and out of mind.

Last week, we joined other Israeli Human Rights organizations in protesting the Israeli cabinet decision to further reduce the already insufficient supply of electricity to besieged Gaza. The local and international public has reacted with hardly a whimper, hardly surprising since we’re in a state of war with Hamas, and this just may force them out of power. Today, these massive power cuts have begun, threatening the lives of “321 cystic fibrosis patients, most of them children, whose ventilators have been shut down by the electricity crisis and whose antibiotics and other medications are in short supply or unavailable. Lack of medications and other vital goods are also said to be compromising the treatment of hundreds of cancer patients, and also of 240 babies suffering from developmental problems” (Bradley Burston, Haaretz). Beyond the mortal danger to the most vulnerable is the distinct possibility that these measures could lead to yet another round of rocket attacks and reprisals and thousands of civilian deaths, tens of thousands injured, hundreds of thousands homeless. We’ve been there before, every two or three years regularly.

We need a miracle no less spectacular than that of this week’s reading, a nonviolent earthquake that will shake the foundations of our complacency, that will replace the vengeful with the compassionate. For this, we need to be followers of our role model Aaron, who loved peace and pursued peace, who loved all God’s creatures in the spirit of the Torah of life. May God be with us.

Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom is a member of Rabbis for Human Rights

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2 Comments so far

  1. Thank you for this Jeremy. I think we all need to hear our sacred texts through the reality and truth of those who suffer. And for the reminder to those of us in the west, who sometimes forget,that circumstances for Palestinians and the occupation have grown worse while we are too often pre-occupied with other things. Bless you Rabbi.

  2. Gied says:

    Hi Jeremy,
    I just translated your excellent column for some dutch websites.
    I pray for you. Shalom,salam!

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