Shabbat Greetings from Stuart Skolnick

Stuart SkolnickA train ride into New York City afforded me the opportunity to read some Torah commentaries on this week’s parasha. And interestingly, both Reform and Conservative commentators picked up on the same point. This Shabbat we read the story of Korach and his revolt against the leadership of Moses and Aaron.  As a Levite, a member of the tribe of Levi, and like Moses and Aaron in that way, Korach was galled by the fact that Moses was in charge. He didn’t understand why Moses and Aaron should have all of the power and control. After all, we were told at various points in the Torah and contemporaneously through the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land that “The whole congregation, all of them are holy.” By this reasoning, shouldn’t anyone be able to be the leader of the Israelites? And here is where the commentators agree. As in so many instances in the Torah, a very close and careful reading provides the answer. Dr. Benjamin Sommer observes, “These verses never simply tell us, as Korach does, that all Israelites are inherently holy. Rather they command Israelites to become holy by observing the mitzvot that the Torah commands” (emphasis added). Just before giving the 10 Commandments, God says (Exodus 19:5-6), “So now, if you all truly obey Me and adhere to My covenant, you will be My personal treasure from among all nations.” Korach has overlooked the word “if” and that changes the picture entirely. His presentation suggests that we inherit holiness where the text makes it conditional. We are commanded to perform mitzvot in order to attain holiness. Each of us has a stake in creating our own claim to holiness. And part of what is required of us involves watching our speech. From the earliest moments of each morning service we are reminded of this. We proclaim, “Baruch she-amar v’ hayah haolam”. Blessed is the one who spoke (emphasis added) and the world came to be. God was able to create the world with just his words. So we all need to be mindful of the power of language. Leaving off, or including, one word at times can make all the difference.

Shabbat Shalom!

Author: Melissa