Delivered June 19, 2015 at Congregation Kol Ami
In the Creation story, we read that God created humans, “בצלם אלהים - in God’s image.” One summer at camp, two counselors were gossiping about the attractiveness of another staff member. “What can I say,” one said to the other, “some people are just more b’tzelem than others.” They laughed, and went on with their day.
In this week’s Torah portion, Korach, a Levite named…Korach leads a rebellion against Moses. Korach and 250 chiefs of the Israelite community rise up against Moses. They take their worship tools and rally the whole community against Moses and Aaron. God is so infuriated by this rebellion that the earth opens up and swallows Korach, killing not only Korach and his household, but all of the chiefs who rebelled against Moses’ leadership.
Perhaps it is my reading, but this seems like a drastic over-reaction. But let us look closer at what is going on.
The portion begins, “וַיִּקַּח קֹרַח - So Korach took.” What is curious is the text does not provide an object - so what did Korach take? The Rabbinic commentators provide plenty of ways of approaching this question. One says that Korach “took himself,” as a way of creating separation for the ensuing conflict. Others say he “took” advice from others and then separated himself from Moses’ leadership (Radak), he “took” people by persuasion to join him (Numbers Rabbah), he “took” 250 men and stood before Moses and Aaron and confronted them, or, perhaps, Korach took it upon himself to act in the name of the rebels. Stanley Wagner and Israel Drazin, two modern commentators, note, “Each of these interpretations pictures Korach as an enlightened man questioning the reasonableness of Moses’ legislation or judicial pronouncements.”
In short, perhaps Korach was saying, “look, some people are more b’tzelem than others - some people are more in the image of God than others. And I am more b'tzelem than you.” Korach thought that he could take it upon himself to correct a perceived ill in the world. Rather than try to work out his differences in some other way, he forcefully confronted Moses and Aaron, told them that he was better than they were, and he met his untimely end.
Nine others met their unfortunate, untimely end this week, by no fault of their own. Reverand Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Sharon Singleton, Myra Thompson, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance and one other Bible study student were gunned down at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina Wednesday night. They were murdered by a man who thought the way to question the legitimacy of a person or group’s practice is through violence and pain and death.
He thought that some people are more b’tzelem elohim than others.
Unlike Korach, though, he didn’t take himself.
Each of us is created b'tzelem elohim - in the image of the Divine. Our free will allows us the opportunity to choose to act with goodness. Indeed, Rabbi Eger's favorite quotation from the Bible says, "What does God require of you? Do justice. Love engaging in kindness. And walk humbly with your God."
As we mourn with our friends in Charleston and around the world, let us recommit ourselves to recognize the Divine within each of us.
Let us recommit ourselves to do justice.
Let us recommit ourselves to engage in acts of kindness.
And let us recommit ourselves to walk humbly, humbly together.
When I reach out to you and you to me,