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Talk truth to me!


Heard an amazing lecture last night by Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, rightfully called “the most extraordinary teacher of Torah available to English speakers today.” Her focus was on Korach‘s 250-person rebellion against Moses not long after the 40-year wandering-in-the-desert verdict was levied. The rebellionaires are angry that Moses has the nerve to raise himself up above the community. Aren’t we all holy? Isn’t God in our midst, too? Bad news for them, of course: the earth opens its mouth & swallows them up — proof of just whose side God is on.

Our modern sensibilities warm up to Korach (at least mine does). The simple narrative feels like a political/egalitarian revolt. But to see it in this light, according to Zornberg, misses the point.

She says that this is a story, ultimately, about failed conversation, about the moment when we refuse to talk. The central problem is not that Korach has a p.o.v., but that he won’t engage with Moses. What might have been said between these 1st cousins is left unsaid – and therein lies the problem, for we human beings discover (more of the) truth only when we are in dialogue.

Not that it’s possible to know 100% of the unvarnished truth. It isn’t: there’s too much blah blah and conflicting versions when human beings get involved in anything. But it is possible to discover how incomplete our own perspective is, to fill in the missing pieces of our self-serving story. Putting our hands over our ears, insisting we know everything there is to know…

It’s just not cool. Such behavior leads to silence, non-conversation, and the sure sense that we are right: at which point we are figuratively deadened (or, in this case, literally dead). The dead cannot learn, cannot argue with their neighbors, and cannot praise God. They’re out of the loop.

I’m not sure that Korach is the only one guilty of non-conversation in this story. Korach wasn’t that far off the mark when he despaired of ever leaving the desert. Yet, Moses & God (individually and together) are convinced that their perspective is the real deal, that this guy is a trouble-maker. Perhaps this is a parable about what happens when you speak truth to power as much as it is a story about non-speech between equals. Maybe it all depends on where you stand.

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