BY ALAN MITTLEMAN, JTS
Korah: Democrat or Demagogue?
Korah is the first left oppositionist in the history of radical politics.
–Michael Walzer, Exodus and Revolution (111)
How shall we read the Korah story? What is his rebellion about? Is Korah the first left-wing radical? He seems to want to level the distinction between leaders and masses. All of the people are holy, he claims. There is no need for a priestly caste which, in the wilderness setting, is a governance class. This view relies on the Midrash’s framing of Korah’s claim: “It is not you alone who have heard at Sinai, ‘I am the LORD your God.’ All of the people heard it” (Tanhuma Korah 4). From Korah’s point of view, the promise of Exodus 19:6, that Israel will be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” has been fulfilled. Mass reception of the divine word means equal standing in holiness. Korah, on this view, is something of a hero, a tribune of egalitarianism before its time.
BY DAVID HOFFMAN, JTS
Intermarriage and the Desert
In light of the recent work of colleagues and friends regarding the boundaries of the Jewish people and how that impacts the weddings that should or should not be performed, I cannot but help to read this Shabbat’s parashah in terms of boundaries.
The midbar—the desert as a metaphor—is a wild, boundaryless place. As the Talmud famously states, “midbar mufkar lakol”: the desert is free and will always remain ownerless. It will always be a space without walls or structure. It’s a place where we wandered aimlessly for 40 years between where we had to leave and where we wanted to go.
Numbers 8:1 – 12:16
BY MICHAL RAUCHER for JTS
Let’s Talk about Sex
There are many unanswered questions about the now-infamous incident of God chastising Aaron and Miriam and then inflicting Miriam with tzara’at, or leprosy, at the conclusion of Parashat Beha’alotekha. Primarily, there are questions about what exactly Miriam and Aaron did to receive God’s rebuke, and why Miriam is the only one punished. Many interpreters have considered Miriam’s wrongdoing in two ways: either she is guilty of racism towards Tziporah, or God scolds her for the presumption that she and Aaron are prophets just as important as Moses.
by Daniel Nevins for JTS
Lifting Up Our Communities
"What task makes you nervous?" You may be surprised by my answer—making synagogue announcements. During my years as a congregational rabbi, I enjoyed public speaking, whether to a small minyan or to a full sanctuary. But standing up at the end of tefillah and making announcements was always a challenge. I wanted to give warm but equal acknowledgement to all who had contributed to the service, as well as to those who had played the many roles necessary to help the shul function. Both volunteers and staff deserved recognition. There were milestones to celebrate, mourners to comfort, and programs to promote.
BY MATTHEW BERKOWITZ, JTSA.edu
A Slow Walk to Freedom
With this coming Shabbat, we begin the fourth book of Torah known as the book of Numbers or Bemidbar. Having occupied ourselves with the details of the priests, purity, and ritual, we now turn our attention to the Israelite wanderings in the desert. Notably, Parashat Bemidbar is obsessed with order: a census, Levitical duties, and the spatial arrangement of the Israelite encampment. We read the extensive list of names, exact numbers of those belonging to each tribe, and the precise location of each tribe in relation to the Tabernacle. How are we to understand and grasp this obsession with order in the desert?
Rabbi Shmuel Avidor HaCohen explains:
Academy for Jewish Religion
“G’d’s Nearness is a Promise”
By Rabbi Elisheva Beyer, RN, MS, JD, ’06
Bechukotai tells us of G-d’s promises for following His commandments and consequences for failing to do so. The parsha opens with, “Bechukotai tale’chu,” which translates as, “If you go in My chukim….” “Chukim” (plural) or “chok” (singular) has several meanings.
BY LAUREN EICHLER BERKUN for JTS
As we stand in the midst of Sefirat Ha-Omer, the period of counting 49 days from Pesach to Shavuot, we read the very parashah which contains the instructions for this count. Parashat Emor teaches:
"From the day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation offering–the day after the sabbath–you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete: you must count until the day after the seventh week–fifty days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to the Lord" (Lev. 23:15).
This selection from parashat Emor is traditionally recited each night of the Omer before the ritual counting. However, while the biblical text is explicit about our need to count, the reason for counting is a mystery. The rabbis of the Talmud understood this period as a countdown to Matan Torah, God's gift of the Torah at Mount Sinai.
BY STEPHEN A. GELLER, from JTS
Separation and Union: The Poles of Holiness
These combined parashiyot are complex in their structure and content, yet a careful examination of these chapters reveals a striking and powerful theological insight. In terms of Bible scholarship, they extend across a major divide in the priestly literature: Leviticus 16 describes the detailed rites of yearly atonement that eliminated the taint of sinfulness from the priesthood, shrine, and people. In essence, it is a kind of re-creation of the initial state of purity of the Tabernacle on the day it was dedicated, as described in Leviticus 9-10. The link between atonement and dedication is made subtly, by the reference at the beginning of Leviticus 16 to the tragic deaths of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, at the dedication of the Tabernacle, as recounted in Leviticus 10. The first part of the parashah therefore should be read as a continuation of the first half of Leviticus, chapters 1-15, which describe the establishment of sacrifice and cult. The dominant themes are purity and forgiveness, which are given as the purpose of all the types of sacrifice.