Adrian A. Durlester

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Random Musings Before Korach 5758/5762
Camp Rebellion

There's one in every group. A rebel. A troublemaker. The video chugim I teach here at camp are no exception. And believe me, there are times when I wish the ground would open and swallow my troublemakers whole, just like Korach and his followers.

The youngest campers are here for almost two weeks. In that time, I might meet with one of my video chugs 7 or 8 times for 50 minutes. Already a huge time constraint. Creating a video takes time and effort, planning, and most of all, cooperation. When the rebels begin to assert themselves, the process becomes even more difficult.

Rebels and troublemakers are products of an individualistic viewpoint. Torah illustrates this about Korach, twice. First, it says that Korach took (in the singular form) himself, along with Datan and rise up against Moshe. (Numbers 16:1) Why not a plural form, representing the trio of rebels? And later on, in 16:3, Korach uses the plural form "community ARE holy." These opposite verb tense form examples both tell us that Korach and his kind see the community as individuals, and are acting for themselves, for selfish reasons.

The rebel seeks not to further the community's cause, no matter how loudly they may proclaim that to be their goal. They seek only their own selfish goals. That is one lesson we learn from this parasha.

The Talmud teaches us that this parasha advises us to not be like Korach, that we should not be quarrelsome. Clearly our Jewish tradition teaches us that argument and controversy are an essential part of life and discourse - when they are arguments for the sake of better understanding Torah, life, good vs. evil, and Gd. But being quarrelsome for mere self-aggrandizement, the kind of behavior that Korach and his followers engaged in, does not meet the standard.

Dealing with the rebels in my chugim, I can see why Gd got so frustrated that he had to take drastic action and eliminate the troublemakers completely. I don't have that luxury, I'm afraid. So what can I do?

Well, I come to camp not to teach video, but I come to teach Judaism, to teach Torah. And what a perfect opportunity I am presented with in this parasha.

This morning when one of my chugs got pretty quarrelsome, aided and abetted by the efforts of the group rebel, I seized the moment. I stopped the group and asked who knew the story of this week's Torah parasha. Here at camp, there's always at least one kid you can count on to know the answers, no matter how young. And sure enough, I got the answer - in simple terms. That Korach and his friends defied Moshe and Gd, and Gd punished them by having the earth open up and swallow them. (One skeptic in the group chimed in "Oh, it was probably just an earthquake.") I asked the group why they thought Gd had given such a harsh punishment. One smart-aleck said "Oh, Gd just likes movies with lots of special effects." Another camper said "because they deserved it for challenging Moshe and Gd." A third chimed in "Do we have to talk about all this Gd stuff now? I want to make a movie." Many others echoed that sentiment with grunts and comments. Then the rebel spoke up completely off topic, describing some gory, blood and effect filled fantasy scene he wanted to put in this chug's video. All of a sudden, the group broke into disharmony and discord again. After a few moments, I managed to regain control-not by shouting, but by simply standing still and quiet and saying, "When you're ready to go on, I will. Now, does anyone else have a thought on why Gd was so harsh to Korach?"

Then, out of nowhere, a quiet young camper, who hadn't said much at all these past two weeks spoke up. He said the Israelites are having a hard enough time getting through the wilderness to the land of milk and honey, and the last thing they need is to fight amongst themselves. Then, almost too quiet for anyone to hear, he added "just like it is here." I asked him to repeat that-loudly. This time he said "just like we're doing-fighting and not getting anywhere."

Well, I wish could say that a hush fell over the group at that point, everyone nodded in assent, and we proceeded to work together to finish our video project. The reality was far from that. Happily ever after happens in the movies more than real life, I'm sorry to say. But a battle had been won. At least one young mind saw the value in cooperation. And no doubt his words did influence a few others. So more seeds were planted. Whether we finished our project or not, I had done some of the job I had come here to do with this group.

This Shabbat is a time to think about quarreling, arguments, and the like. Right now, the Jewish people are again fighting amongst themselves in a manner not reminiscent of Hillel and Shammai, which represents the "good," or "constructive," kind of controversy, but more in the manner of how Korach, Datan and Abiram challenged Moshe. How are we going to make it to our promised land if we waste all our time and energy in fighting with each other? What can we do to defuse the situation, to be peacemakers, before Gd again becomes frustrated and has to take drastic action?

May yours be a Shabbat of shalom, with perhaps a few little good arguments, for the sake of Torah and Gd, mixed in for good measure. And resolve, perhaps, when confronted with a quarrel of the "Korach-ian" kind, to do the only smart thing to do in that situation: refuse to become engaged in it.


©1998 by Adrian A. Durlester

Some previous Musings on this parasha:

Korach 5761-Loose Ends

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