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Korach, Kerach, and Caring

06/11/2021 11:26:08 AM


          Shabbat Shalom! In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Korach, we read about a man who is dissatisfied with what he sees around him and dares to dream up a world in which he is recognized for his own importance and that all people are allowed to share in holiness and leadership.  Depending on your position, you might see Korach as a democratizer unfairly cut down by the power structures, or as a rabble rouser trying to usurp power for himself. The Torah itself is not very clear, and we are left to midrashim and to our own interpretations to try to understand what really is going on with Korach’s challenge to Moses’s authority.

          My current fiction book that I read at bedtime is called Mr. Impossible. It’s the second book in an as yet unfinished trilogy that is itself a spin-off of a previous young adult fiction series. Both sets of books have several point-of-view characters, but I would say that of all the points of view the readers are granted, there are still distinct main characters in each series. Though Ronan Lynch is a point-of-view character in the Raven Cycle, and we do get to see inside his mind a little bit in the first series, it is really only in the Dreamer Trilogy that he becomes a main character and we start to fully understand his own chafing against authority. Ronan is a dreamer in a much more literal sense that Korach. He can literally manifest his sleeping dreams into physical waking reality. The first item the reader is introduced to as a dream-thing of Ronan’s is a raven named Chainsaw. As a corvid, she can of course imitate other calls and sometimes even sound vaguely human, but it is never fully explained how Ronan knows her particular call, “Kerach”, is her name for him.

          Since Kerach is never explained, I don’t know the etymology or why Maggie Stiefvater chose to spell it that way. When I read it, I hear it like a raven call. But if we could suppose for a moment it had a Hebrew root, we could say it share’s that root with Korach. Kerach means “ice” in modern Hebrew. Rabbi Arthur Waskow points out in his d’var Torah for this week that Korach means “frozen.” Both Korach and Kerach are stuck in place, frozen if you will, by their belief in a world that doesn’t quite exist. According to Rabbi Waskow, with some help from Martin Buber, Korach’s vision for the world didn’t exist yet when he tried to force it. The people of Israel were too fresh from the slavery in Egypt and hadn’t learned how to think freely, how to trust openly, how to co-lead with one another, and so Korach’s attempts to elevate them and overthrow a singular charismatic leader was short-sighted. He and his followers were buried like seeds to grow and foment underground until such a time as the Jewish people or all of humanity were ready for true democracy and decentralized leadership. I think we’re still waiting for that day. Meanwhile, Kerach, or Ronan Lynch, is otherworldly entirely. A central theme of Mr. Impossible is his inability to unite his waking and sleeping selves, to understand that his dreams are as much a manifestation of his waking thoughts even as he manifests his dreams into waking realities. He treats his dreams as isolated worldscapes, without regard to the effects on the physical world. Again, this is shortsighted and his inability to learn and move forward threatens his waking life. So far, the earth hasn’t quite opened up to swallow him, in reality or dreamworld, but it would be totally within the realm of possibility for him.

          Reading Korach through this lens of frozenness, short-sightedness, and the need to thaw and grow allows us to interpret his actions not simply of a bold and arrogant Levite demanding what he sees as his due privilege. Rather, the problem is that he doesn’t quite understand his power and privilege. He wants to elevate all people, but it doesn’t seem he’s actually spoken to the woodcutters and the water carriers, the youngest men of the lowest tribes. His intentions seem noble, but his methods are not thoughtful or sensitive to the circumstances. The lesson of Ronan Lynch aka Kerach applies here: You are more powerful than you know, and so, take care with what you manifest.

          I believe none of us are Dreamers in the way that Ronan is, although if you are, please tell me because that would be awesome. But, many of us may be dreamers in various ways similar to Korach. Hoping for a more equitable society, bitter about hierarchies, misunderstanding of the strength of our own voices and power. What matters is how we manifest those dreams. We must actually listen to those most hurt by the hierarchies and lift up their voices, rather than project onto them what we think will fix the situation. We must be patient with slow progress, always pushing further but not forcing beyond the immediate possibilities; celebrating wins where they occur and looking for the next step. May we thaw frozen hearts and minds, may we grow from buried seeds, may we be thoughtful and sensitive as learn and progress, and may we manifest dreams. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.


Sat, May 28 2022 27 Iyyar 5782