Korach - weekly Torah portion

Many times a leader will find herself or himself in a position where those who are led by them are full of complaints. Moses, who has already had a fair share of complaints, faces these once again. Korah together with a group of people complain, “You have gone far enough, for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is in their midst; so why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” While it may seem as a timid question simply seeking an answer it is in fact a complaint against the leadership of Moses. Moses tries to appease them saying, “is it not enough for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to Himself, to do the service of the tabernacle of the Lord, and to stand before the congregation to minister to them?” He does not understand what else it is that they need. The problem is that once this starts the snowball started rolling. He “summons to Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab; but they said, ‘We will not come up. Is it not enough that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to have us die in the wilderness, but you would also lord it over us? Indeed, you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor have you given us an inheritance of fields and vineyards. Would you put out the eyes of these men? We will not come up!’” Swiftly what could have been a minor incident has escalated into a major crisis that ends with a bang, “the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that is theirs, and they descend alive into Sheol, then you will understand that these men have spurned the Lord.”

Alas the complaints do not end and shortly thereafter the Israelites are at it again, grumbling “against Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘You are the ones who have caused the death of the Lord’s people.’” The Godly response to Moses and Aaron is swift and clear, “Get away from among this congregation, that I may consume them instantly.” Moses grasps the tragedy that is coming upon the people he leads and calls out to Aaron in an attempt to save their lives, possibly trying to get ahead of God. He asks Aaron, “Take your censer and put in it fire from the altar, and lay incense on it; then bring it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone forth from the Lord, the plague has begun!” Aaron does as he was requested and “ran into the midst of the assembly, for behold, the plague had begun among the people. So he put on the incense and made atonement for the people… those who died by the plague were 14,700, besides those who died on account of Korah.” Complaints and intolerance have a heavy price, but we also learn about Moses character as a leader. He does not give up for a moment trying to find a way to fix, amend or appease so that the damage is minimized.

These days we do not encounter leader of the statue of Moses often enough, if at all. However, from time to time we see leaders rise to the occasion even when they are not even remotely aware that this is what they are. They are there to fight a just cause and change our lives for the better. One such leader is Renee Rabinowitz, an 83 year old who embarked an El Al flight almost two years ago, is one such leader. Sitting at her seat on a flight scheduled from Newark, NJ to Tel Aviv, an ultra-orthodox 50 year old came to sit beside her. That man talked to the steward who then approached the lady and offered her what he claimed to be a better seat, which really was not. He also explained the reason for the transfer which was the demand of that ultra-orthodox man not to sit near a woman who is not his wife. Neither he nor El Al saw a problem in all of this. The result was that in order to appease the feelings of a 50 year old man an 83 year old lady with knee problems had to move from her assigned seat. An interesting interpretation to the commandment from the Torah, “You shall rise up before the grayheaded and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God” (Leviticus, 19, 32). He of course may argue that this does not speak of women but I think we should not accept that logic for a couple of sentences later we are required, “You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measurement of weight, or capacity. You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin” (Leviticus, 19, 35). I believe it will be fair to say that one would not dare argue that women would be entitled to depart from these commandments because they are meant only for men.

What makes Renee Rabinowitz a leader in my mind is the unwillingness to simply push this issue aside and continue with her life as if it has never happened. Accepting that notion that one person’s feelings have a superiority of the feelings of another person, and especially when the filtering is gender biased. The easiest thing to do is just to go on, ignore, minimize and forget. Moses tried to do that with Korah and got hit also with Dathan and Abiram. This slippery slope also had an impact on Moses. Renee, who approached our very own Israel Reform Action Center (IRAC) was represented by our excellent lawyers and entered the halls of justice for a preliminary hearing. There the sides reached a compromise that included payment of damages to Renee as well as the presiding judge declaring that what El Al did is illegal and imposing various training requirements on the staff after the company committing that this is not their adopted policy. This is a great achievement to Mrs. Rabinowitz, and to our talented lawyers. We will continue to fight as unfortunately wrongs are still all around us and we try to fix them one by one. We experience that in the Kotel, the educational system, conversions and marriages. We will continue to fight tirelessly for the character of the State of Israel, Jewish and Democratic, Democratic and Jewish.

Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov.

Reuven Marko, 1 Tamuz 5777, 23 June 2017

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