Gut Shabbos! This weeks parsha is Korach, an interesting interlude in all the rebellions against Moshe or God or order in the Book of במדבר . Korach, along with Datan and Abiram, or parallel to their rebellion, challenges Moshe’s authority. Why is Moshe in charge when all the people are holy, Am Kadosh and Momlechet Kohanim as we read in Shmot 19? He challenges Moshe and Aaron, רב לכם , which is usually translated as “You take too much, you assume too much.”
Moshe answers, tries to shame them that they have the honor of Levites, but they are not satisfied, they want to be priests and leaders. He shoots back at them רב לכם בני לוי . So there is a challenge, each brings his own incense plate, God accepts Aaron’s and sends fire to consume Korach and his followers.
There is a question – Doesn’t Korach have a point? Is he a democrat? Should we sympathize with him? The traditional answer is that he is a demagogue, he is not really for spreading the power, only to take it for himself.
But that’s not what I came here today to talk about, as Arlo Guthrie would say. This coming Monday is the first yohrtzeit of my teacher, my rebbe, Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. He was my teacher for over 40 years, and helped form me as a Jew and a rabbi. He was filled with holy chutzpah, as his friend Shlomo Carlebach would say. He was deeply rooted in the Chassidic tradition, in Jewish texts, and he knew and respected and learned from many other spiritual traditions. He believed they all were paths to the ineffable, the true God beyond system, beyond theology. He called this "Deep Ecumenism," Yet his path was the Jewish path.
Zalman taught that we are in the midst of a paradigm shift, not the first in Jewish history. There was a paradigm shift at the destruction of the first Temple, when we saw whether Judaism could survive for a generation without a Temple, and even outside the land. But then we returned for another 600 years until the destruction of the Second Temple, a bigger crisis because it wasn’t rebuilt, and there was a struggle as to if and how Judaism would survive. It looks to us as if Rabbbinic Judaism was there to take over, but that wasn’t clear immediately. There were a lot of paths proposed. Most died out, though one other, the path that became Christianity, also survived in its own way.
There were many crises along the way. One was the expulsion from Spain, which produced its own paradigm shift, the growth of Kabbalah, of mystical Judaism. Kabbalah existed before, but it became much more important after the Iberian expulsion, centering in the Jewish communities of the Ottoman Empire.
We tend to think of the changes as pretty immediate, but in reality the response to these crises took a long time before there was a new understanding(s) of being Jewish.
We are in the midst of a major Paradigm shift, Reb Zalman taught. It began with emancipation, which is some places began 200 years ago, while in other places well into the 20th Century. The Holocaust, the establishment of the State of Israel, and the major migrations of Jewish populations, all are part of it. This has led to new understandings of Judaism, Reform and later Conservative, and what we consider “Orthodox” and “Charidi” which were responses. Also various kinds of secular Judaism including Zionism. More recently Reconstuctionism and Renewal.
How does this relate to the parsha? The question about Korach was, was his revolt לשם שמים or was it for his own glory? Are the new forms of Judaism visions for the future or reactions of fear? How can we be bold and at the same time authentic? This brings us back to the phrase רב לכם . I tend to think about this as a question רב לכם? Do you have a Rav, an authorative source? Is your understanding authentic, true, truly serving the ,קב'ה The Holy One?
I could speak much longer on this, but I’m just opening the discussion here. We don’t expect half hour DTs in the space.
Reb Zalman is the source of many of the things I do, especially the opening up of liturgy, of bringing in other music (e.g. Ripple), dovennin in English, more physical expressions of worship.
I now want to invite you to share in one new form of worship. Reb Zalman had great respect for the Sufi tradition of Islam and was even ordained as a Sufi master. He was able to use the Sufi tradition of Zikkr and make it authentically Jewish. So I would like to invite you to experience this form of worship that I learned from him. Though you can do it in place, it will work better, individually and collectively, if you come up here and do it with me.
ה' מֶלֶךְ, ה' מָלָך, ה' יִמְלוֹך לִעוֹלָם וָעֶד