Yom Sheini, 15 Iyyar 5779
Monday, 20 May 2019
Parashat Korach 2012

Parashat Korach: Rabbi Margaret Jacobi
20th June 2012

“You take too much on yourselves. For all the congregation are holy.”· So say Korach, Datan and Aviram in their protest against Moses.· Their words seem perfectly plausible.· After all, aren’t all the people holy, and if so, why should Moses and Aaron lead the people rather than anyone else?· But it later becomes clear that Korach, Datan and Aviram want to mislead and manipulate the people. Referring to the Exodus from Egyptian slavery, they ask Moses,· ‘Is it a small thing that you brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the wilderness?’ Rabbinic commentators elaborate what is already in the Torah - that Korach and his followers were out for their own glory and not really concerned at all for the welfare of the people.

The issue with the rebellion of Korach and his followers is not that they challenge the leadership, but why they do so. Martin Buber suggests that the core content of the dispute between Moses and Korach was choice and freedom. We might expect from Korach’s opening words that it was he who was concerned with the people’s freedom. But Buber states that it is· Moses who is fighting for the freedom of each Israelite now and subsequently to choose their own path. As he says:

“Both Moses and Korach desired the people to be…the holy people. But for Moses this was the goal. In order to reach it, generation after generation had to choose again and again…between the way of God and the wrong paths of their own hearts; between life and death…for Korach, the people…were already holy…so why should there be further need for choice? Their dispute was between two approaches to faith and to life.” (Moses: The Revelation and the Covenant)

Holiness is not something we are. It is something we become.· And it is this becoming which gives us our life’s task and our freedom to choose.·· We can decide to make our lives and ourselves holy.·· The Children of Israel are not told they are holy.· Rather, at Sinai they are told ‘You shall be a holy people’ and again in Leviticus they are commanded: ‘You shall be holy.’· By performing mitzvot, especially the mitzvot commanded in the Holiness Code, Leviticus 19, of kindness to the poor, the widow,· the orphan and the old, we become holy.

It is not just people who can be made holy.· Objects become holy because we use them. There is no intrinsic holiness in a kiddush cup or a spice box.· We make them holy through using them for Kiddush and Havdalah.· Places, too, can be made holy.· At a meeting of the Council of Christians and Jews in Birmingham, Rabbi Irit Shilor, an Israeli citizen now a rabbi in Britain and Germany, talked about what the holiness of the Land means.· To be holy in Hebrew means to be separate, distinct and set apart.· There is some debate amongst the rabbis as to whether the land of Israel is intrinsically holy or whether it becomes holy by virtue of what happens on the land.· According to the second opinion, it is what we do on the land that makes it holy.· If we do what God wishes us to, if we fulfil the mitzvot set out in Leviticus, if we make the land a place of peace and justice, then we will bring holiness to it.

Recently, I happened to hear a moving programme on the BBC World Service marking United Nations International Widows’ Day. One of the widows interviewed was an Israeli, Ruti, whose husband, a doctor, had been killed in a shooting, leaving her with small children.· She talked to another widow live on air and her voice radiated kindness and compassion as she identified with the feelings of loss. It was clear that she had reached out to others in similar situations to offer them help.· It is such deeds of loving kindness that help to make the Land of· Israel a truly holy land, and us a holy people.

Our holiness is not pre-determined, as Korach wanted it to be.· Such holiness requires no growth or effort.· It leads to complacency and stagnation.· It is the search for holiness and the striving to be holy that gives meaning and purpose to our lives. This is what Moses wished for the people.· It was not the easy path.· The people rebelled against it because it demanded of them discipline and sacrifice. But it was the path that gave them true freedom and brought them blessing.· May we, too, learn to live lives of holiness, lives of lovingkindness and justice. In doing so, may we find blessing as we bring blessing to others.