Light from the Sidra

Korach (Korah)

Torah: Numbers 16:1-18:32.Haftarah:1 Samuel 11:14-12:22

Me, myself and I AM

I’ve just finished looking at an online test that tells you if you are narcissistic. I decided not to take the test because, as far as I’m concerned, narcissists are just infatuated with themselves; whereas with me and I, it’s the real thing!

Anyway, what has my sense of superiority got to do with our Parasha? Well, everything really. Amongst other things, say the experts, narcissists are shameless, arrogant, envious and consider themselves special. If you fail to comply with the wishes of a narcissist you are attacking their superiority and, by definition, you are a ‘difficult’ person. And non-compliance can trigger narcissistic rage.

Well, hello Korah and Company: ‘They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?”’ (Num 16:3)

‘And Moses said to Korah, “Hear now, you sons of Levi: is it too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the LORD and to stand before the congregation to minister to them, and that he has brought you near him, and all your brothers the sons of Levi with you? And would you seek the priesthood also? Therefore it is against the LORD that you and all your company have gathered together. What is Aaron that you grumble against him?”

‘And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and they said, “We will not come up. Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, that you must also make yourself a prince over us? Moreover, you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor given us inheritance of fields and vineyards. Will you put out the eyes of these men? We will not come up”’ (Num 16:8-14).

The Bible has a different term for narcissism, it is ‘Sin’. According to Orthodox Judaism, human beings are born with both an inclination to good (Yetzer ha-Tov) and an inclination to evil (Yetzer ha-Ra). Both these inclinations, say the rabbis, are in constant conflict. Just after his induction as Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, Jonathan Sacks stated on BBC radio that the most glorious teaching of Judaism is that the greatest sinner, by an act of the will, can become the greatest saint.

How, I wonder, can a man as brilliant as the Chief Rabbi believe in a concept that is contradicted by both the Hebrew Bible and human experience?

The human heart, according to Jeremiah 17:9 in the old JPS translation of the Bible, ‘is deceitful above all things, and it is exceeding weak – who can know it?’ The 1985 JPS Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures is far stronger in its rendering: ‘Most devious is the heart; it is perverse—who can fathom it?’

Or take Psalm 53: ‘God looks down from heaven on mankind to find a man of understanding, a man mindful of God. Everyone is dross, altogether foul; there is none who does good, not even one’ (Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures). It’s difficult to find the concept of a Yetzer ha-Tov there.

In the Haftarah reading, Samuel, like Moses, confronts the people and declares that he has not exploited or oppressed the people. In the words of Micah 6:8 He has done justice, loved kindness and walked humbly with his God. It’s a pity though that the Haftarah finishes where it does because in the first king of Israel we observe Korah-like behaviour.

Before he became king of Israel, Saul appears to have been a humble man. Indeed, he seems to have been full of self doubt. But power corrupted him and he became too big for his sandals and, in 1 Samuel 15, he takes upon himself the role of priest and is rejected by God. From that point on, Saul’s life is a downward spiral of jealousy, self pity, paranoia and, finally, death by the sword.

Coming back to Korah and his confederates, their gripe was about Aaron’s position as high priest. Certainly he was no better than they were but he was the Lord’s ‘mashiach’; God had chosen and anointed Aaron for the office of high priest. To touch ‘the Lord’s anointed,’ was to fight against God himself.

God’s choice of Aaron as high priest was ratified in a striking way. He was declared to be the high priest through a miracle of resurrection. In chapter 17, on the order of Israel’s God, Moses takes the patriarchal staffs of the chiefs of the twelve tribes and carves each man's name on his staff. He then deposits the sticks overnight in the tabernacle. And the staff of the man God had chosen would sprout back to life: ‘Thus I will make to cease from me the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against you.’

The miracle of resurrection determined once and for all the identity of God’s messiah, his anointed high priest. If the recognition of Aaron as his priestly messiah was so important that God resurrected an almond branch, how could he do anything less to demonstrate the identity of his ultimate Messiah, the redeemer of Israel?

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the late head of Lubavitch Chabad, was believed by many of his followers to be the Moshiach. When he died, some confidently predicted he would rise from the dead but after a decade-and-a-half no sighting of his resurrected body have been reported. The first letter to the Corinthians in the New Testament states that Jesus of Nazareth was seen by more than 500 people after his death and Saul, the former Pharisaic rabbi, says Jesus was declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection of the dead.

By raising Jesus from the dead and allowing him to be seen by so many people, God intended to put and end to the grumblings of Israel. If it’s true that you have a good inclination, then allow it to move you to do the right thing by following where the evidence it leads: to Messiah.

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