Here is the story of this week’s Torah portion in a nutshell: Korach started a rebellion. He, along with ringleaders Datan & Aviram, plus 250 non-priestly men of name and stature, stood before Moses & Aaron and declared Too much for you! All the people in the community are holy and God is among them too. Why do you set yourselves above the community?
Moses: Now you’ve gone too far! Isn’t it enough that you’re leaders? Now you want to be priests as well? Well, fine. Show up tomorrow with incense in your pans and we’ll see whose offering that God accepts.
Datan & Aviram: We’re not going anywhere. You didn’t bring us to a land of milk & honey (that old chestnut). We’re not falling for any more of your tricks.
Moses to God: I didn’t do anything to deserve this. You have got to take my side.
Moses to the rebellious: Oh yes you will show up!
God to Moses & Aaron: Not again! I’ve had it! Let me at ’em!
Moses & Aaron to God: Whoa, big guy. We didn’t mean for you to wipe out the entire Israelite community, just the complainers.
Long story short: God opens up the earth, thus swallowing up Korach & his lieutenants, all 250 of the conspirators, and all their families. Whoosh! Gone. Next day, the freaked out Israelites raise the obvious question: where’s the justice in all this? Why the overreaction? Are we next? God loses it, sends a plague, kills 14,700 people before Moses & Aaron can make expiation for the public outcry. For a few moments anyway, order is restored.
So, though my Rebbe & friend Arthur Waskow is interested in how the “planting” of Korach might lead to new understandings of how change happens; and though Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg includes a spectacular chapter about Korach & his “sin” of non-speech in her new book; and while (because?) all the traditional commentaries speak of Korach as a problem child…
I wrote a poem celebrating rebellion. Celebrating. Rebellion. Celebrating all the crazy-ass people who challenge the status quo every which way, rightly or wrongly: who create art and alternative institutions and truth-telling blogs and fabulous slogans that challenge the way we think. An uncomplicated, proud, indulgent, poem called Praise the Contrary & Its Defenders. Rock on, troublemakers, rock on!