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  • Rabbi Max Davis

Open Rebellion

Parshat Korach 5780

Shabbat shalom.

These past two weeks, our community has been engaged in a challenging experiment to determine if we can restart ‘live’ davening on shul ground.  There have been several challenges, from the most important – How can we do this in as safe a manner as possible - to lesser issues such as how to prevent the mechitza from billowing in the breeze and whether to mark up the parking lot with tape or paint.  The opinions on nearly all matters voiced by our membership have been as varied as the types of problems.  Regardless of my personal opinions, I couldn’t be prouder of the process whereby the board navigated the issues, and I am exceedingly grateful for their wisdom and leadership. Aside from the essential health concerns, our community faces another unprecedented challenge with implications for our continued existence.  It is a challenge that lurked beneath the surface of society for our ancestors in the wilderness, and burst to the fore in parshat Korach. One of the primary questions concerning Korach’s rebellion has to do with the timing of it all. If Korach was motivated by envy, ambition, or even a warped sense of yirat Shamayim as some commentaries suggest, why didn’t he rebel sooner? Granted, there is a debate about when the events of parshat Korach took place, and some, like the Ibn Ezra, suggest that the rebellion did occur earlier.  However, Ramban and the pshat (straightforward reading) of parshat Korach suggest that Korach’s rebellion occurred just as we see it in Torah, immediately following the tragedies detailed in last week’s parshat Shelach.  What about those events triggered Korach and crew? Rabbi Bentzion Firer (1914-1988) former Rav of Moshav Nir Galim, addresses this question in his characteristically thoughtful way. When did Korach remove himself to the other side to foment argument with Moshe and Aharon?  After the incident of the spies.  A nation intent upon the conquest of its ancestral lands is not inclined towards divisiveness.  The greater purpose unites everyone and dissuades rogue activity...   However, continues Rav Firer, the debacle of the spies resulted in a 40-year sentence for B’nai Yisrael to roam the wilderness and perish.   This harsh new reality obliterated their raison d’être, diluted their sense of unity, and rendered them vulnerable to Korach’s mischief. Rav Firer suggests further that Korach, like his fellow Jews, was a victim of the grave disappointment. ...And when a person has nothing to do, s/he foments arguments.  When Korach found himself with nothing to do, he went and made an argument.  Likewise the other (rebels) who had nothing to do, went and joined themselves to the actions of Korach. Stated otherwise by Shelomo HaMelech in Mishlei 16:28, אִ֣ישׁ תַּ֭הְפֻּכוֹת יְשַׁלַּ֣ח מָד֑וֹן A shifty man stirs up strife...  (Translation Sefaria) What does any of this have to do with our recent efforts to jump-start Congregation Darchei Noam? I am concerned about the possibility that the pandemic has cast our community into the wilderness.  We don’t know if the journey will last a year or forty, but we are certainly more vulnerable to the loss of momentum towards a common goal. We no longer have the comfort of our beautiful sanctuary, the luxury of a hopping Kiddush, the stirring sight of strollers and walkers intermingled in the crowded foyer.  The closure of our building renders us, not “shifty”, but uprooted.  The common purpose of sustaining a thriving modern Orthodox shul is muted when our gatherings are primarily virtual.  To be clear, I am not advocating reopening the shul building.  I am not urging a resumption of normative activities.  I am not advocating that anyone with medical misgivings attend our parking lot minyanim.    But chas v’chalilah we should take for granted the beautiful Kehillah of Darchei Noam we have built – beautiful in terms of the values, principles, modern Orthodox hashkafah, in addition to the beauty of our recently thriving shul.  Darchei Noam is worth fighting for – and many are! Those who continue to participate in our davening by Zoom, or in person – you are fighting for our shul.  Those who continue to make calls, attend virtual committee meetings, give of your overtaxed time and resources – you are fighting for our shul.  Your dedication is inspiring, your energy is breathtaking, and your efforts make a difference. One thing, though, I must ask – and this I ask strictly of those who do not have medical concerns about our ‘live’ minyanim.  Please find the time and energy to show up!  Men and women, now more than ever, your attendance matters.  If we have a sufficient number of members who feel comfortable with our parking lot precautions, we are personally and communally halachically bound to field a daily minyan.  We cannot claim the mantle of modern Orthodoxy if we fail to sustain such daily obligations. Please do not read personal judgment into these remarks.  I feel no such animus, nor would it ever be my place to sit in judgement!  I share these candid thoughts in hopes of bolstering our communal purpose in one crucial way as we traverse this endless wilderness.  There are other vital ways to maintain community, and that good work is being done.  But Darchei Noam is not just any community.  We are first and foremost a Kehillah Kedoshah – a holy congregation.  May we find the strength and focus to live up to all that that entails. Shabbat Shalom.Remarks from HaRav Firer on Parshat Korach

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