Thursday, June 10, 2010

Korah

The Israeli novelist, Etgar Keret, writes: "I love soccer because it is so painfully similar to life: slow, unjust, fairly random, usually boring, but always holding out the hope that, at some moment, however brief, everything will come together and take on meaning.  There’s no getting away from it—life isn’t about limber athletes sinking hoops from the three-point arc; life is an ongoing, uncoordinated, anguished effort to transcend our trivial existence, an effort that, if we’re lucky, might lead to one brilliant move by Messi, Kak√°, or some other dribbling magician.  And then, for one split second, that whole damp 90-minute mishmash will turn into something coherent, beautiful, and worthwhile. And,when that moment and its endless playbacks fade, we will all return to our same drab reality of wasted time, pointless fouls, unreceived passes, and wild kicks that miss the goal by kilometers, only to wait with infinite patience and boundless hope for that next moment of grace." ("Goal-Oriented," TNR, June 2, 2010)

I do not share Keret's observation that most of life is boring (or his talent for spinning humor out of the ordinary), but I do share his thought that life is punctuated, like soccer, with flashes of brilliance and grace when everything seems to work and everyone seems in sync.  Such is not the story of this week's Torah portion, Korah.  Our portion is about the greatest rebellion against Moses and the authority God placed in him.  In fact one can read much of the Torah, especially the Book of Numbers, as a record of how bad things can really go and how telling Keret's observation may be.  Very little goes according to plan.  God frees the people from Egypt, gives them the Torah and prepares them to enter the Promised Land.  They in turn whine and complain.  They gripe about Moses and his leadership. 

In this week's portion, Korah screams, "You have gone too far!  For all the community are holy, all of them, and the Lord is in their midst.  Why then do you raise yourselves above the Lord's congregation?"  (Numbers 16: 3)  In the end Korah's rebellion is violently crushed.  God does not easily forgive those who question Moses' authority.  The Israelites move on to the next episode.  Again they complain; this time about a lack of water.  In this episode it is Moses who questions God's authority and is punished.  Where are the flashes of brilliance?  Where are the models to emulate?  My teacher use to say, "There is no one in the Bible you would want your son or daughter to grow up to be like."  Then why read the Torah?  If it is not to provide us with models to emulate and characters to which we aspire, why read it at all?

It is because the Torah mirrors life.  It is filled with ordinary people who occasionally do extraordinary things and more often than not do embarrassing things.  We can see ourselves in its characters.  We can find ourselves in its pages.  There is a little bit of Korah in each of us.  There is a measure of Moses in all.  Such is also the case with the modern State of Israel.  It is a country I love.  It is a country whose miraculous founding I cherish and whose vibrancy continues to nourish my soul.  Yet it sometimes stumbles.  And this is exactly what happened with its recent actions regarding the Gaza flotilla.  My remarks tomorrow evening will touch on these events and their repercussions.  Loving Israel does not always mean agreeing with its actions, praising its behavior and apologizing for its leaders.  It is the same with Torah.  Loving the Torah does not always mean imitating it.  Loving the Torah and Bible does not mean saying, "It must be right if David did it.  It must be true if Moses said it."  Torah means instead learning and growing from is words.

There are times when you can appreciate Keret's observation.  Standing on the sidelines I watch my son slide to make a save and then leap to knock the unexpected shot out of bounds.  Most of the time is spent on the sidelines kibbitzing with fellow parents, talking about schools, parenting, the news and weather.  The hours of driving and watching are redeemed by those brief moments of beauty.

We travel from moment to moment, through ordinariness to such grandeur.  We are sustained by the moments of illumination and brilliance.  We pray that they might be more frequent.  We recognize that they are elusive.  Such is life.  Such is soccer.  Such is Torah.

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