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Congregation Brothers of Israel

L'dor Vador—From Generation to Generation since 1883
לדור ודור

 

Chaired by Dr. Ellier Russ with the assistance of the Rabbi, this committee coordinates programs and classes to engage members in lifelong learning. Events include our yearly Scholar in Residence program, Talmud Study, Mah Nishtanah: What’s Different About Today’s Judaism, The Observant Life Book Series and more. Guest speakers, online webinars and Shabbat morning discussions additionally provide congregants with opportunities to expand their knowledge of Judaism and living a Jewish life.

TAlmud

 In fulfilling the following commandments one enjoys the yield in this world while the principal remains for all eternity honoring father and mother, performing deeds of loving kindness, punctually attending the house of study morning and evening, showing hospitality to strangers, visiting the sick, helping the needy bride, attending dead, praying .with devotion, and making peace between individuals. And the merit of Torah study is equal to all of these. Talmud Shabbat in 12e

TORAH SPARKS

 

TORAH SPARKS
KORAH 5781 
June 12, 2021|   2 Tamuz 5781
Torah: Numbers 16:1-18:32 Triennial 16:20-17:24
Haftorah: I Samuel 11:14-12:22

                     

D'var Torah: Korah's Take On Leadership
by Ilana Kurshan
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Our parashah features a serious and dangerous assault on Moshe’s leadership of the Jewish people. In the midst of the Israelites’ desert wanderings, a Levite named Korah rallies a group of two hundred and fifty rebels, who accuse Moshe and Aaron of assuming too much power for themselves: “All the community are holy. Why then do you raise yourself above the Lord’s congregation?” (16:3). Korah’s explicit demand is that leadership be distributed more equally, but Moshe’s response intimates that Korah and his followers have an ulterior motive. A close examination of the wilderness rebellion in our parashah points to a fundamental difference between Korah and Moshe’s models of leadership: One devalues the common good for selfish ends, thereby pandering to our basic instincts; the other elevates the common good to a central place in society, thereby upholding our aspirations.  

Although Korah presents himself as a populist, Moshe understands that Korah and his followers are really intent on their own self-aggrandizement. Moshe realizes that the rebels were resentful that Aaron and his sons—a different branch of the Levite family—were chosen as priests instead of them. As Moshe tells the men who rose up against him and Aaron, “Is it not enough for you that the God of Israel has set you apart from the community of Israel and given you access to Him, to perform the duties of the Lord’s Tabernacle…Do you seek the priesthood too?” (16:9-10). In the midrash (Bemidbar Rabbah 18:4) Korah incites his followers to complain that, “Moshe is a king, Aaron and his brothers are high priests, their sons are deputy priests, the tithes go to the priests, twenty-four priestly gifts go to the priests.” They are angry at Moshe and Aaron for hoarding all the roles and the riches, and wish to assume these leadership positions themselves.

Another suggestion that Korah is in it for his own glory can be found in the opening words of the parashah, “Korah took” (16:1). The verb “took” never receives any direct object, leaving us to wonder what it is that Korah takes. But perhaps that is the point. Korah’s leadership is all about taking. He wants the power and the glory for himself. In this sense, his model of leadership could not be more antithetical to that of Moshe.

Moshe, unlike Korah, never wished to take the role of leader upon himself. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egypt?” he asks God, eager for God to choose anyone else in his stead (3:11). Later, following the incident with the golden calf, God offers to destroy the Jewish people and make Moshe into a great nation (32:10), but Moshe will have none of it. He knows that he is nothing if not for the Jewish people; his raison d’etre, at this point in his life, is to serve the people and bring them closer to God. If God will not forgive the people, Moshe cries, then “erase me from the book which You have written” (32:32). Moshe, the humblest man on earth (Number 12:3), recognizes that a leader is only a leader when leading his people; his leadership is not about himself, but about the people he leads.

Two of Korah’s fellow rebels, Datan and Aviram, have particular difficulty understanding Moshe’s attitude toward leadership. The Talmud (Nedarim 64b) identifies these two men as the two Israelite slaves whom Moshe saw fighting when he went out among his kinsmen in Egypt. “Why do you strike your fellow” (2:13) Moshe asked one of them, and he replied, “Who made you chief and ruler over us?” (2:14). As the rejoinder suggests, Datan and Aviram, like Korah, assume that Moshe is just trying to take power for himself. They do not realize that Moshe is motivated not by power but by justice; not by might but by right. They assume that his leadership is about his own authority and glory, but that is only because this is their own model of leadership, and they cannot imagine any other.

The Talmud teaches a valuable lesson on leadership in a story in tractate Horayot (10a) about Rabban Gamliel, the leader of the Jewish people in the land of Israel at the turn of the first century, who once decided to appoint two young scholars as the head of the academy. He summoned the scholars to inaugurate them in their new positions, but they did not come, presumably because they were reluctant to accept the honor. He sent another message, this time rebuking them: “Do you imagine that I am granting you authority? I am granting you servitude!” Korah seeks honor and authority. He is a reminder that those very leaders who masquerade as populists are often so focused on themselves that they have no space to consider the good of the people they purport to want to lead. Only a truly humble leader can dedicate his or her energies to doing what is best for others.

Perhaps it is fitting that Moshe dies high up on the summit of Pisgah, whereas Korah’s band is swallowed into the earth. As our parashah reminds us, great leaders like Moshe do not direct attention to themselves but focus our gaze upwards -- on values and ideals that lie far above the petty concerns of Korah and his followers.

 

D'Var Haftorah: Leading By Leaving
Bex Stern Rosenblatt

 

The Tanakh tells the story of the relationship between two entities: God and the people of Israel. The part of God is played, unsurprisingly, by God, starting at creation and continuing through the return to the land after the Babylonian exile, from Genesis through Ezra-Nehemiah. The part of the people of Israel is less consistent. It is played by generation after generation of Israelites. In the words of Kohelet, “a generation comes and a generation goes, and the earth endures forever.” Moreover, often we meet the people of Israel through their leader. Someone among the Israelites rises up to mediate the relationship with God, to be the representative in the story. We know their names; we tell their stories. They are Moses, Miriam, Aaron, and Deborah, Gideon, Samson. They are the kings, the priests, and the prophets. And their stories are fascinating and beguiling. Their characters are well-developed and it is easy to see ourselves in them. In fact, it is so tempting to identify fully with these characters and their stories that we often lose sight of the larger story to which they belong. We forget to read them as representatives of the people of Israel in a particular instance, as part of the unbroken chain of the eternal people of Israel in relationship with God.

Samuel, the main character of this week’s haftarah, understands this danger. We have been reading the story of Samuel already for eleven chapters by the time we get to this haftarah. We feel Hannah’s need for and devotion to him as she prays for his conception and birth. We tremble with him when he first hears the voice of God speaking to him and thinks it’s just a priest calling to him. We understand his heartbreak when the nation forces him to recognize his beloved sons as failures. And it is natural for us to rage his rage when the people demand that he step down as leader to appoint a king for them. Not only are we convinced by his warnings of all the awful things that a king will do to us, we also hate that after he has literally dedicated his entire life to serving God and the people, the people choose to reject him. Caught in the story, we are rooting for Samuel.

Samuel, however, is rooting for something greater than himself. He understands that his dedication to public service is for the sake of the public and not for his own sake. Samuel, as reminded by God, knows that there is a greater story being told, the story of the relationship between God and the people of Israel. He sees his story as part of this, and his life as a good example of how to be in this relationship. But he is willing to let go. In our haftarah passage, Samuel inaugurates Saul as king, as new representative of the people of Israel. In his farewell speech to the people, Samuel chooses to tell the story of the leaders who have come before him. He locates himself in a chain of leaders, stretching from Moses and Aaron, through the judges including him as the last judge, and then he sets forth the kings as leaders after him. He tells the story of the Israelite people rather than his own. He makes room for the people of Israel to tell their story once he is gone. Sometimes, the best thing a leader can do for their people is to know when it’s time to leave and let the story continue without them.

Connecting Heaven and Earth

Vav – a special letter
You probably know that there is a correspondence between Hebrew letters and numbers. Number 6 corresponds to the letter “vav”. “Vav” is shaped like a hook holding two things together (ו); normally, “Vav” is translated as “and”. This letter is also referred to as “vav of connection” therefore, “the Sixth Day”—Yom HaShishi (Yom Vav)—connects the spiritual and physical; heaven and earth, six days of Creation and Shabbat. 

The day of connection
We can see a wonderful confirmation in today’s Jewish life. Anyone who has experienced Shabbat in Israel knows that Friday, Yom Shishi, is a really special day of the week, since it is the beginning of Shabbat. As such, it connects and holds together the six days of the week and the most important day of the Jewish week, Shabbat (Saturday). 

Discover the nuances of the Bible
The importance of this day is clearly emphasized in Judaism: the day we celebrate as the Jewish New Year, is not actually the anniversary of Creation, it is the anniversary of the sixth day of Creation—Yom Hashishi. According to Jewish understanding, Creation became meaningful when man was created: the Sixth Day connected heaven and earth, and God was proclaimed King! Enroll in our live online Biblical Hebrew course and Hebrew will reveal the nuances of the Scripture!  


KORACH 5781: Might Not Always Right
KORACH (Numbers  16-18)
June 12, 2021 
|  by 

When is the Truth the Biggest Lie?

GOOD MORNING! One of life’s most challenging and ongoing struggles is trying to find the balance between one’s wants and needs. A person’s basic needs for survival are water, food, shelter, and clothing.

(I would like to pause here to point out that much of the world’s population – estimates range from about a billion to 2.5 billion – does not have regular access to safe drinking water. In addition, almost 25% of the world doesn’t have access to basic sanitation and 25% of people are plagued with moderate to severe food insecurity. So when we consider our daily personal issues, we should also be keenly aware of all our blessings.)

For those who aren’t struggling to obtain basic needs, there may be a challenge in recognizing the difference between a desired item and a necessity. An argument can certainly be made that a person NEEDS a car to work, shop, receive medical attention, etc. But does that person NEED to have a top of the line car like the McLaren 600 LT? Not so much.

(Many years ago I went to see a very wealthy individual in Canada and I was picked up from the airport in his brand new Rolls Royce Silver Shadow convertible. It was a chilly day so the top was up and for some reason my head kept rubbing against the top of the car and knocking off my Yarmulke. I spent most of the ride marveling how I was more comfortable in my Toyota Camry than in that $300,000 car.)

Still, even from a young age we all seem to be internally driven to desire expensive homes, cars, clothing, and jewelry. However, in truth, this impulse to want and have is not necessarily a bad thing.

This discussion reminds me of the joke about the man who had no desire to have or do anything so he went to seek treatment from a psychiatrist. The Freudian psychiatrist said to him, “Before I treat you I will need to see some id.”

In Judaism, this basic drive to fulfill one’s desires, whatever they may be, is characterized as the yetzer hora – the “evil inclination.” One may think from seeing the word “evil” that this “yetzer hora” is something that we ought to excise from our lives, but this is simply not so.

The Talmud makes an illuminating statement (Kiddushin 30b): “The Almighty said to the Nation of Israel, ‘I created the evil inclination and I created the Torah as an antidote.’” This passage implies that first God created the yetzer hora and then He created the Torah to counteract it. That statement requires some explanation, however, it also reveals a deeper concept.

The word that the Talmud uses for “antidote” is tavlin; the word tavlin literally translates to “spice.” Thus, the Talmud’s statement is that the Torah is a really just a spice for the yetzer hora! This is quite an astonishing concept. But what does it really mean?

The basis of the entirety of creation is to give a person the ultimate benefit; the greatest good possible. Thus, at the core of our beings, we are hardwired to desire benefit. In order for man to feel good about this benefit (and not like we are receiving charity) the Almighty created a system by which we have the ability to earn His intended benefit for us. This is the system of Free Will – every person has the ability to choose to do right or wrong. Based on the choices we make we can earn (or lose) God’s intended benefit.

Thus, a person’s internal desire to receive benefit is the key to the entirety of creation. This is not always selfish; we often desire to do altruistic acts because we innately feel it is the right thing to do. But even altruistic acts can translate into personal benefit, as we have discussed in prior editions.

In another remarkable passage, the Talmud records (Yoma 69b) that the sages of 2500 years ago wanted to eliminate the evil inclination, who (personified) then countered with: “Realize that if you kill me the world is finished.” They actually succeeded to hold the yetzer hora captive for three days, and during that time not even a chicken laid an egg throughout the land. They quickly realized that all motivation to do or accomplish ANYTHING stems from the yetzer hora. So they let it go.

Hence, it’s rather clear that the yetzer hora is the key to creation, but as the Talmud states, the evil inclination on its own is rather meaningless. That doesn’t mean it isn’t substantive, as the Talmud expresses: it’s simply tasteless (think tofu). Without the proper “spice” (i.e. the Torah) the desires of the evil inclination would ultimately be very unsatisfying.

Consequently, the Torah is our “Owner’s Manual” for guiding us through the mazes and complex intricacies of our desires. The Torah tells us what to pursue and what to abandon. In this way, the Torah leads us to the most meaningful path that – should we follow it – would allow us to make the utmost of our lives.

Unfortunately, sometimes our desires – even those permitted by the Torah – confound us and obscure the proper path. I believe a good litmus test as to whether or not something is really a worthwhile desire is to begin by asking whether or not this impulse is being driven by ego.

For example, “Am I buying a Patek Philippe watch because I really appreciate the aesthetics and flawless timekeeping or because I want others to see that I have ‘arrived’?” A truly honest answer will help guide you in making the right decision. Obviously, there are many nuances and complexities understanding the ins and outs of desires, but I believe that identifying where our ego fits into the equation is a good place to start.

In this week’s Torah reading, we have a perfect illustration of someone whose ego and jealously led him (and many others) down a path of destruction. This week’s Torah portion is named Korach after Moses’ cousin who, according to our sages, was annoyed at being passed over for the position of high priest.

Korach, it must be noted, was sage of the highest caliber; a person who was highly regarded for both his wisdom and erudition. He was also fabulously wealthy and had communal status. Nevertheless, he couldn’t simply say, “I am angry that I was passed over for a prestigious position” or “I am jealous;” instead he decided to lead a mutiny against Moses for the perceived impropriety of nepotism – for Moses had appointed his brother Aaron the position of kohen gadol, the high priest.

Korach’s contention was that Moses had appointed his brother Aaron on his own and that he hadn’t been told by God to appoint him. He actually succeeded in convincing a few hundred people that Aaron should not be the only one to serve as the high priest. Moses was greatly distressed by this claim of inappropriate bias and the subsequent mutiny. He devised a test as only the worthy could bring an incense offering. Long story short: good guys won, bad guys lost (i.e. Korach and his mutinous cronies die a gruesome death and Aaron retained the title).

Rashi (Numbers 16:7) rather bluntly asks a very pointed question: What caused Korach, who was a very clever person, to engage in such stupidity? Meaning, Korach knew the veracity of Moses’ claim that Aaron had been appointed by Hashem. He knew that he was wrong and that he was putting his life at risk by challenging Moses. How could Korach, who was actually a very wise man, engage in such folly?

Rashi answers that Korach saw prophetically that the prophet Samuel would be one of his descendants. According the Talmud (Ta’anis 5b) Samuel was, in some sense, equal in greatness to both Moses and Aaron. In addition, he saw that he would have descendants who would serve in the future Temple. Therefore, when Moses said that only one of the people who brought the incense would survive, Korach automatically assumed that it would be him.  Alas, he was mistaken; he didn’t realize that his children would repent and actually live – and it was from them that these great people later emerged.

But Rashi ends his comment with a curious remark; “but Moses did see properly.” That is to say, even though Moses also saw the greatness that would eventually descend from Korach, he knew that it would come from Korach’s children. What could Rashi possibly mean? After all Moses knew that he was in the right because the Almighty had asked him to appoint Aaron and therefore he wasn’t guilty of nepotism. What difference does it make that “Moses did see properly”?

Rashi is telling us that even though Moses knew that Korach was in the wrong and that he deserved to die for his terrible insubordination and challenge to Moses’ authority, the only reason Moses felt comfortable in pursuing this course of action was because he knew that Korach’s future descendants would be unaffected by Korach’s untimely death.

This teaches us an incredible lesson regarding conflict and its consequences: Even when you know you’re right and you have the power to enforce your vision of what you deem to be right, you have to take a long and hard look at the consequences of your actions. Being in the right doesn’t give one carte blanche to impose that position. Every possible eventuality must be considered before implementing one’s agenda; even when it’s a righteous one.

Whether one is a hard line conservative or a far left liberal, no agenda should ever be implemented until all the consequences of one’s actions are fully considered. As we see, Moses wouldn’t execute someone who absolutely deserved to die unless he saw that the future would remain unchanged.

 

Torah Portion of the Week


KORACH  (Numbers 16:1-18:32)

There are two rebellions this week. First, Korach, a Levite, is passed over for the leadership of his tribe and challenges Moses over the position of high priest. No good rebellion can be “sold” as a means for personal gain, so Korach convinces 250 men of renown that they must stand up for a matter of principle – that each and every one of them has the right to the office of high priest (which Moses had announced that God had already designated his brother, Aaron, to serve).

Fascinatingly, all 250 followers of Korach accept Moses’ challenge to bring an offering of incense to see who God will choose to fill the one position. This meant that every man figured he would be the one out of 250 to not only be chosen, but to survive the ordeal. Moses announces that if the earth splits and swallows up the rebels it is a sign that he (Moses) is acting on God's authority. And thus it happened!

The next day, the entire Israelite community rises in a second rebellion and complains to Moses, “You have killed God's people!” The Almighty brings a plague that kills 14,700 people and only stops when Aaron offers an incense offering.

To settle the question once and for all, Moses has the head of each tribe bring a staff with his name on it. The next morning only Aaron's staff had blossomed and brought forth almonds. The people were shown this sign. Aaron's staff was placed in front of the curtain of the ark as testimony for all time.

 

Quote of the Week

Never be haughty tothe humble, never be humble to the haughty.

— Mark Twain

On-Line Learning


Rabbi Gaber lead several Adult Education programs using ZOOM Web conferencing technology.  "You don’t have to leave the warmth and comfort of your home to have a discussion on confronting Antisemitism and Hate or the Human Genome or to discuss how to bring Judaism into the 21st century. I will be leading an online class.  You will not  only be able to hear me and see me, you will also see your friends in the same virtual classroom. There was an interesting line up of  webinars this past winter. Our final CBOI Online learning program this season has a dedicated link: https://zoom.us/j/7686776767.     All you need do is enter this link into your favorite browser and follow the instructions.  If you get stuck, please let me know and I will help you get on line."  

*Don't worry, if you can't make the discussion at the appointed time, you'll still be able to learn about each topic:
See the CBOI On-line Learning page in Learn Navigation bar to see all the previous  On Line Zoom Learning sessions.

TALMUD CLASS IS HELD MOST WEDNESDAYS FROM 11:00 AM - NOON

FOR YOUR CONVENIENCE  TALMUD STUDY WILL BE ON ZOOM - see IMPORTANT INFORMATION on the website home page

Mon, June 14 2021 4 Tammuz 5781