CCAR Newsletter May/June 2020 - 4
Voices of Torah
Rashi explains that the story of the spies
follows the story about Miriam because
"she was punished for maligning her brother
and these wicked men saw it, but did not learn
their lesson." The spies' evil report of Canaan
is understood to be analogous.
Rabbi Yisrael Morgenstern of Pilov comments,
"A profound lesson is hinted at here: If a person
does not want to see the truth, nothing will
help, even if one shows it to him clearly. Such
a person has closed his eyes and cannot see".
(Torah Gems, vol. III, p. 58). The spies saw
what they wanted to see.
History is replete with examples. When a
belief is contradicted by historical events,
true believers have been known to refuse to
accept factual reality. We see this in our own
history. Many followers of the late Rabbi
Menachem Mendel Schneerson proclaimed
him "Melech Moshiach-King Messiah" while
he was yet alive and, upon his death, denied
the reality of his demise and proclaimed his
future resurrection. Similarly, many Bratzlaver
Chasidim believe Rebbe Nachman will one day
rise from the dead to lead his Chasidim again.
Unfortunately, this retreat from truth has
become a feature of our current political
reality: recorded events are derided as fake
news, strenuous attempts are made to discredit
science, and truth-speakers are accused of
political machinations. Reality often presents
us with inconvenient truths. We cannot afford
leaders who close their eyes and deny reality.
We must be the ones to exclaim, "The emperor
has no clothes!"
The tenth commandment invariably proves its importance. According to Midrash Rabbah, Korach's rebellion
originated in jealousy concerning who would lead his clan, which gave rise to a stunning sense of entitlement: "The
prince of the ancestral house of the Kehat clan was Elitzafan ben Uziel (Numbers 3:30). Korach said, 'Father had four
brothers: The sons of Kehat: Amram, Yitzhar, Hebron, and Uziel (Exod. 6:18). Concerning Amram, the first-born:
his son Aaron attained greatness and his brother Moses rules. Who deserves second [place]? Is it not the second
[son]? I am Yitzhar's son...the appropriate one to be prince of my clan, yet [Moses] appointed Uziel....Therefore, I
am dissenting and nullifying all he has done.' Therefore: Korach took... (Num. 16:1)" (B'midbar Rabbah 18:2).
Teachings of the Chachamim, early Chasidim, and Mussar masters on the midah of humility are more crucial than
ever before. Envy and its dangerous offspring, entitlement, often arising in childhood and poisoning families, have
always found their way into the broader arenas of society and politics throughout human history, with insidiously
destructive results for communities, nations, and today the very future of our precious Blue Marble.
The midrash encourages us to engage in introspection concerning our own motives, as well as to evaluate leaders of
our congregations, organizations, communities, and nation to determine whether envy or ideals fuel their priorities
and endeavors. Recognizing envy in ourselves and others is a critical key to distinguishing between hubris and
entitlement, on the one hand, and principles and gratitude, on the other.
The Shinto Ise Jingu shrine in Japan is constructed of cypress boards and a thatched roof, yet it is among the
longest-standing structures in the world. How is that possible? Every 20 years for the past 1,300 years, locals tear it
down and rebuild it anew.
Rabbi Mordechai Yosef of Isbitza, writing on the mysterious rite of the red heifer's ashes in Mei HaShiloach, quotes
Shir HaShirim Rabbah 5:9, which envisions the nations of the world asking the meaning of this mitzvah. God
declares it a chok, an eternal statute without explanation, inspiring King Solomon to compare the life of Israel
with that of other nations. The Isbitzer comments: God deals with Israel differently than the other nations in that
no evil reaches the depth of the life of Israel. The first way this is manifest concerns loss and death. Other nations
experience loss and death as one would a shattered, irreparable vessel. But for Israel, death is like a vessel whose
sections are merely disassembled [but presumably remain fundamentally intact]. In addition, the heifer's redness
reflects our strength. Even when we are under the power of an oppressive earthly ruler, we are always and only
under the "yoke" of God, as the never-yoked parah adumah hints. The red heifer passage precedes the deaths of
Miriam, Aaron, and Moses, so that Israel will understand that there is no death in the usual sense: the sprinkling of
the purifying waters hints at future renewal.
However many excellent ways there are to envision and embody renewal, the concept is central to Jewish myths,
metaphors, and historical experience because renewal is crucial to our unity and continuity.
(MARK H. LEVIN)
On the level of p'shat, the story of Baal-peor (Numbers 25) appears to be that violent response to idolatry is
righteous. At Baal-peor , the Midianite woman Kozbi ("Deception") arouses God's jealousy and passionate anger
by seducing the Israelite Zimri for idolatry. They model rejection of God's covenant in response to the lure of nonIsraelite idolaters. Pinchas assuages God's wrath at Kozbi and Zimri's licentiousness by skewering the couple during
conjugal relations (Numbers 25:7-8), violence approved and rewarded with God's b'rit shalom (25:12).
(Continued on page 10)
CCAR Newsletter May/June 2020
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of CCAR Newsletter May/June 2020
CCAR Newsletter May/June 2020 - 1
CCAR Newsletter May/June 2020 - 2
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