Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 67

June 10, 2021

To Stand Alone

Dear Holy Friends,

I hope this letter finds you doing well and enjoying some of the beautiful weather. Our team continues to work diligently toward the goal of opening the building for in -person services in the near future.

As we gradually and cautiously conclude this chapter of Covid related protocols, I was reminded of two statements that I heard at the beginning of the pandemic. One person mentioned to me that if we fail to develop a new skill over the pandemic it only indicates laziness because, for sure, we have enough extra- time on our hands. The second comment, which resonated with me was, “I don’t think people will ever again ask for more alone-time or me-time.” To expand on this second idea, I draw your attention to some wisdom from this week’s Torah portion.

This week’s portion describes the rebellion in the desert of Korach against Moshe. Towards the end of the narrative, as a punishment for his insurgence, Korach and his accomplices are literally swallowed up by the ground. Our tradition seeks to understand the basis of Korach’s demise.

Parshat Korach commences with the words, “Vayikach Korach,” – “Korach took.” (Bamidbar 16:1). All of our commentators want to know, what exactly did Korach take? The Aramaic translation, called Targum Onkelos explains, “Ve’itpeleig Korach,” – “Korach took himself to the other side.”

This is to say, that Korach separated himself from Moshe and Aharon, as well as the rest of the people. Korach, for whatever psychological or sociological reasons, decided that isolation was preferable to being with others. Korach festered in his self-imposed isolation, which eventually led him to create an environment of communal divisiveness. In this context, alienation from community is certainly not presented as a virtue.

Furthermore, there are only two occasions in the Torah, in which we are told that something is not good. At the beginning of Bereishit, 2:18 we read, “Lo tov lihyot adam levado.” – “It is not good for a person to be alone.” This is why Hashem created Eve, to be alongside Adam.

Later, in the book of Shemot (18:17), Yitro said to his son in law Moshe, “Lo tov,” – “the way in which you are judging the people by yourself is ‘not good. You should carry out these sacred responsibilities, but you must do this alongside others. You cannot stand alone all day in order to arbitrate disputes of the community.” Yitro’s message to Moshe the lawgiver is clear. When we separate ourselves from others, rather than connecting and collaborating with them, it is not good for us and it’s not good for our society.

In these three passages, the Torah gives us a mitzvah that we should not be like Korach and his followers. Rather, we should strive to appreciate and build the myriad of relationships in our lives, and bond together in meaningful and constructive ways. As we immerge from quarantine and reintegrate into society, and as we get ready to resume services in the synagogue, we will be able to come back together as a holy community, in-person.

As Shabbat approaches, let us pray that we come to fully appreciate the relationships we have and always strive to reach out to others with affection and love.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Eric L. Wasser, EdD
201 562 5277

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