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In June our Shabbat Service will be held at the UUCOB at
831 Herbert Perry Rd, Kitty Hawk, NC 27949.

831 Herbert Perry Rd

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Upcoming Service:
Friday, June 15, 2018
Time: 7:30 PM

Parsha Korach

Numbers 16-18
        We have reached the Book of Numbers now, and like Exodus, it is a historical recollection of events during the 40 years of wandering in the desert. I want to first skip back a parsha, from Korach to Shelach L’cha, because they have important similarities.
        One thing that I see as I read the Bible is that there are many, many episodes where the Children of Israel as a whole, or in smaller groups, test the will of God, Moses and Aaron, and much more than a child tests its parents.  Sometimes the tests have non-violent endings, but many times they do not.  God has a fearful wrath, but many of the wanderers did not appreciate it.
        Let us remember back to the times after the Exodus from Egypt where the Israelites complained and God brought forth manna for them to eat, water from rocks for them to drink, and so on.  So when Moses went up Mount Sinai to gather the Ten Commandments but did not return in 40 days, the people again grew anxious, then rebellious, and the result was a Golden Calf.  This angered the Moses and the Lord, and the Levites were ordered to kill 3000 idolators.
        In last week’s parsha, Shelach L’cha, Moses selects 12 men, one from each tribe, to scout out the land on the other side of the Jordan. The spies come back, and except for Joshua and Caleb, gave an unsatisfactory report of the land for they feared its inhabitants. So the Children of Israel wailed and murmured against God, Moses and Aaron.  And the wrath of the Lord was kindled against the Israelites, and the 13 Attributes of Faith we read about during the High Holidays were invoked, with the result that, except for Joshua and Caleb, every Israelite in the existing generation would not live to see the land on the other side of the Jordan.  Hence the wanderings in the desert were set for 40 years. Then God sent a plague that killed the 10 spies who conspired against him.  A short time later the Israelites, despite the warnings of Moses, attempt to enter the new land but are dealt a crushing defeat at the hands of the Amalekites and the Canaanites, the result being that the tribes are now forced to cross the Jordan by taking a path counterclockwise around the Dead Sea. The length of this passage turns out to also be 40 years.  Perhaps if the spies had believed that God would enable them to defeat their foes in due time, they would have given Moses a favorable report and the Israelites would only have spent a short time in the wilderness.  It pays to have faith in God.
        So with this in mind, let’s move on to Korach and our current parsha.  Things have not gotten any better. Korach, a Levite, and Dathan and Abiram, of the tribe of Reuben, directly challenge the authority of Moses and Aaron.  Korach and his followers are displeased with the authority given to Aaron, and Dathan, Abiram and their followers feel likewise about Moses. The total number of close followers is 250.  God’s response is quick and deadly.  God then opens the earth and swallows the 250 men alive.  A plague is then visited upon the sympathizers, and another 14,700 die.  Thus God once again displays his power, and Moses and Aaron retain their rightful places of leadership.

        It is unclear whether Korach, a Levite, and Dathan and Abiram, Reubenites, acted together since Korach challenged Aaron and the others challenged Moses.  What is clear is that there are 2 different stories here that have been merged into one, which is not unique is in Old Testament.  The Moses-inspired writer wrote the version with Dathan and Abiram, while the pro-priestly writer who penned Leviticus, prepared a similar version with Korach.  What is clear is the punishment for both groups is the same – an awesome-to-behold death in front of all the Tribes.
        God’s motives were pure, so the actions taken, while violent and deadly, were always quick, necessary and honorable.  Recall the Golden Calf, the unfaithful spies and now Korach and his followers.  In between we had the deaths of two of Aaron’s sons who drew too close to the Holy of Holies.  It’s not that far back to Egypt when God slew the first born of every man and animal, and drowned the charioteers in the Reed Sea.
        Where are the episodes that don’t involve immediate death?  As I just mentioned, every adult whom left Egypt, except for Joshua and Caleb, was going to die in the desert and not reach the Promised Land.  I believe that Miriam and Aaron die in the next parsha, but Miriam gets a double dose as she earlier was punished with a short spell of leprosy.  I suspect that God never quite forgot that Aaron fashioned the Golden Calf.  And of course Moses suffers his fate because he struck the rock at Meribah instead of just touching it.
        I wonder what today’s psychologists would say?  Is God consistent?  Remember this is not a democracy.  God and his disciple Moses alone are in charge, and challenges to their authority must be met swiftly and decisively.  Perhaps the newly freed slaves, the Children of Israel, did not understand or appreciate their redemption from the Pharaoh.  Any disobedience in Egypt would surely have resulted in torture and death.  How free did they really think they were?  Did they even have an understanding of what it meant to be free?  I suspect they only knew they were not enslaved by harsh taskmasters, and did not have to make bricks and build cities to the glory of Pharaoh.  Like a child growing up who constantly tests its parents, so likewise did the Children of Israel.  To a 3 year old, the word “because” ought to be sufficient.  They are too young to reason with.  The newly-freed Israelites are less than a year old, but as adults, God and Moses cannot say “because”, so the use of lethal force must be the only proper alternative.  I sometimes remark that the Children of Israel needed to have blind faith in God, as do we all.  But as a group, that was beyond their capacity, so all the adults who left Egypt as free men and women would die as free men and women but not in the Promised Land.  It would be up to God and Joshua to observe and manage the next generation’s behavior.

        The Haftorah comes from First Samuel and relates to the Israelites’ wishes to have a king to rule over them.  Samuel was the chief Judge and was responsible for rebuilding the nation during the time of the Judges.  It is interesting to note that Samuel is a descendant of Korach.  While Samuel was “hurt” that the people wished to have a king, he followed their desire, and with God’s help, was able to find the appropriate person, Saul.  One of the great things that Samuel did as compared to many of the other Judges was that he laid the framework for a monarchy.  At the beginning of this Haftorah, he anoints Saul as King.  Most of the Haftorah is Samuel’s farewell address.  While there is a loose connection between the parsha and the Haftorah, I need to note that the Israelites did not openly rebel against Samuel as Korach, Dathan and Abiram did to Moses and Aaron.  Faith in God is again the hidden factor here.  Once Samuel realized that God would help him find a ruler, everything played out accordingly.  There was no rebellion by the people against Samuel, nor by Samuel against God.  Four years ago, the Coastland Times ran a series on the story of Samuel’s effort to find and convince Saul of his worthiness as King.  And Saul was worthy of the task until his mental illness took hold.  When he died after God lost faith in him (and that’s another long story), Samuel was still the Chief Judge.  As so concludes the parsha.