This week's Torah Reading -
: Numbers 16: 1 - 18: 32
begins with the famous rebellion of
, who was from the same family as Moses and Aaron. He and his followers accuse Moses and Aaron of having too much power and authority. "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 yourself above the Lord's congregation?" (Num 16:33)
Moses proceeds to challenge
and his followers to let God choose between them. Each group took a pan to burn incense in. The group with
was then consumed by a heavenly fire, and
and his household were "swallowed up by the earth."
The rest of the
confirms once again the leadership of Moses and Aaron. The duties of the
are reiterated, as is the confirmation of Aaron and his sons as their head (
). This division of the people into
is still recognized today in the order in which people are called to the Torah.
Yesterday morning I
in the land of my ancestors. As I put on my
I marveled at the changes that had occurred in the world just during my lifetime, and how comfortable it was to pray in the very place where this was unthinkable just a short time ago. A few minutes later I was stunned as I heard announcements over a loud speaker in Hebrew. I was not in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem (though I was on my way there). I was in the airport in Moscow, Russia.
As I traveled to Israel for my final summer of the Rabbinic Leadership Initiative (RLI) of the Hartman Institute, I thought about an important truth found in his week's Torah portion. Throughout Jewish history there have been great challenges to our future. One of those was the rebellion of
and his community. Another was the oppression of Russian Jews from after WW ll until very recently. A third is the challenge that we have as modern, liberal Jews forming a lasting Jewish identity to hand down to the next generation. What the account of
reminds us is that in each and every generation we have always overcome these challenges and forged a new future for the Jewish people.
Yesterday I prayed in a place where just a few short years ago I had friends who were accosted by the KGB because they were bringing
to Soviet Jewish dissidents. Today I am preparing for
in a place that just 75 years ago didn't even exist, the State of Israel. As
us, difficult challenges may arise, but our strength and perseverance as a people can and will ultimately overcome them.
Rabbi Steven Kane