Rabbi Baum's Weekly Message
Shalom Shaarei Kodesh,
There are a lot of ‘miraculous' moments in the Torah - events that transcend nature, and in this week’s parashah, we have a number of ‘miraculous’ moments. But rather than focus on the one that you may be thinking about in Parashat Korach, mainly, a hole appearing out of nowhere swallowing up the rebel Korach and his gang, I want to focus on another miracle - the miracle of Aaron the High Priest’s Staff.
The miracle comes right after the failed rebellion by Korach and others, where 250 people were swallowed up by the earth, and a plague that killed 14,700 people. Moses asks the heads of the tribes for their staffs, twelve in all, and included in the collection of staffs was Aaron’s. Moses put the staffs in the Tent of the Pact, Ohel HaEidut, and the next day, Moses goes into the Tent and finds that Aaron’s staff comes alive!
"The staff of Aaron of the house of Levi had sprouted: it had brought forth sprouts, produced blossoms, and borne almonds" (Numbers 17:23). It was meant to be a sign to the people: Aaron was the true representative of God, but there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to Aaron’s staff, as it has a history that goes beyond this moment.
In Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of Our Fathers, we learn that it was one of the ten things created in the twilight between the sixth day and the Sabbath during the creation story. The Midrash notes that it was Jacob’s staff when he crossed the Jordan River. Another Midrash states: “That same staff was held in the hand of every king until the Temple was destroyed, and then it was divinely hidden away. That same staff also is destined to be held in the hand of the Messiah.”
What are the miracles that are contained in this staff that can help us today?
The first miracle was that the staff blossomed, and blossoming, or flourishing, is a miracle. But the greater miracle was that it went through the process of blossoming, beginning with budding, producing flowers, and providing fruit (or nuts in this case) all at once.
This miracle, and the almonds it produced, got me thinking of us, both our congregation and our people.
Throughout our history, there have been people who have counted us out, said that we were like a dead stick, and yet, like Aaron’s staff, we miraculously blossomed. There is no greater example in our times than the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel.
Often in life, we become like Aaron’s staff. Sometimes we feel dead and wooden. And then things change. We learn new skills, learn lessons from our sacred Torah, build new relationships and deepen older ones, and find renewed purpose. We go through all stages of growth: flowers, buds, and fruit, and then we feel hopeful again.
We are living through an interesting moment, a transition from going from a year of shut down, where so many of us were stuck in place, to a time when things are opening back up again and coming back to life. Unfortunately, the miracle of the staff isn’t realistic for our times; things cannot come back to life instantly, it’s a gradual process. However, even though things are not happening instantly, this does not mean that miracles aren’t present.
Rabbi Israel Salanter once said: “We live by miracles every day, but miracles don’t happen every day.”
There are miracles in our lives and in our shared history—some we recognize and some we don’t. To pass through difficult times, to have hope, and to flourish again—this is truly holy and truly a miracle, and to be surrounded by our warm community in person again reminds us all of the miracle that is our congregation. I wish you all a Shabbat Shalom, and we look forward to seeing you enter our gates of holiness.
Rabbi David Baum