Friday, June 27, 2008

KORACH: RETURNING THE LOST BROTHER

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

This week's sedrah is about losing a brother. Never mind the causes and whether it was justified or not. Regardless of the circumstances, we should feel deep pain and a true sense of loss when we read about losing a brother. Korach led a rebellion against Moses' leadership. He paid a stiff price for causing dissension and shattering the unity of Israel.

Num:16:33 "Vayerdu hem vechal asher lahem chayyim sheolah vatekas aleihem haaretz vayovdu mitoch haKahal..."

"And they and all their possessions went down alive to Sheol and the earth covered them over and they were lost from the midst of the congregation."

Korach was lost to the community of Israel. A centrally important mitzvah in the Torah is Hashavat Aveidah, returning a lost object, as elucidated in Nezikin of the Mishna.

Teshuvah, repentance/returning, is open to everyone, even to Korach. One day even he shall be returned to his people! KoRaCH and KeRaCH, the word for "ice," share the same Hebrew root. Perhaps this connection is to inform us that his lofty ideals would be more appropriate for a future era, when issues of ego could be removed from the equation.

His noble ideals of equality and democracy were passionately expressed, but they were really fronts for his enlarged ego and craven desire for power. He brought machloket (divisiveness) into the camp of Israel, and this was antithetical to the ideal spirit of unity and oneness. An idea may be beautiful, but if it divides rather than unites, it may be better to wait for later.

As he went down alive (hayyim) into the pit, theoretically he remained frozen but yet alive, and so his neshama (soul) could still do teshuvah. One day the lofty calls for the goals of democracy and equality will be disengaged from ego, and that aspect of a bifurcated humanity will have achieved a healing.

Today we have a new world of lost brethren. They are frozen, cut off from the warmth of Shabbos and Yiddishkeit, but are waiting to be thawed out.

We expend our energies on delving ever deeper into discovering more chumras, more rigorous applications of halacha, all the while assimilation rates have climbed to the highest levels ever in the history of the Jewish people with the consequent attendant alienation and disaffiliation.

Chumras may be psychologically satisfying in that they maintain an illusion of fighting assimilation with ever more stringent ritual and communal norms, but at the same time they hold the rabbinical leadership up to ridicule by most objective observers from both within and without and fail to move anyone closer to actually returning to the Jewish fold. Just the opposite. If anything, they have driven more Jews out of the fold!

In the meantime, one fifth of American Jewry has embraced Christianity, two fifths have embraced other persuasions, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, paganism, and materialism. And the remaining two fifths fight over the shrinking pie for righteous dominance. And who is blamed? The other denominations? If anything they are at least keeping Jews involved Jewishly. If Jews only attend twice a year is that the fault of the particular movement or denomination? It's the fault of apathy and assimilation. With the exception of today, more Jews have left Orthodoxy, historically speaking, than have left all the other movements combined! The truth is that most Jews are NOT affiliated with ANY movement or denomination.

If an assimilated Jew finds his way to a local Chabad House does anyone hold Chabad responsible for his assimilation? That would be silly. But yet some people have a compulsion to attack Reform and Conservative Jewry because of the multitudes of lost brethren who show up just once a year. As if it's the synagogue's fault!

But it is the Jewish community's fault for not having free quality Jewish (and secular) education available for every single Jewish youngster. Once they are involved in the community, their own neshamas will guide them where to go to synagogue. The neshama never lies. We need to embrace as a community and love every Jew with a complete sense of Ahavat Yisrael. It is the only way.

Jewish education rates are absolutely appalling, with a majority of Jewish children receiving a most minimal Jewish education, if any. Day schools and yeshivas are prohibitively expensive,
far outside the comfort level and capability of the majority of Jewish families to be able to afford. It's hard enough for families to afford gas for their car and health insurance, let alone a near $20,000 per year yeshiva or day school bill per child! They call it Jewish birth control.

Where are the Jewish philanthropists? 90% of Jewish donors only give to non-Jewish causes. It is very nice to give to the general community. But what about helping our own people too?
Where is the balance? We are disappearing, watching a silent Holocaust unfold before our very eyes, albeit in slow motion.

Only with a solid, affordable Jewish education can the Jewish people hope to perpetuate itself. Every Jewish child should be able to attend for free, or for a nominal fee, a Jewish day school or yeshiva and thus have the knowledge and positive identity to perpetuate Jewish life and ensure a proud Jewish future for generations to come.

In the year 515 B.C.E., Jewish education in ancient Israel was made compulsory and universal. In modern Israel it is as well. But in the diaspora, the lands of dispersion, the opposite is nearly universally the case. And so it is no accident that assimilation is taking its toll. Our brothers and sisters have become lost to us. We must help them to return. One heart at a time. And education with a warm heart at all levels is the key to thaw out a frozen neshama.

We have the capability to yet marshal our forces and resources to return our lost brethren to their rightful place as living heirs of our glorious legacy. But do we have the will? It's not up to the professionals alone. It's up to each of us.

Shabbat Shalom!
Good Shabbos!

copyright 1999-2008 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin HaKohen Melman

These words of Torah are written in the merit of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, obm, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Ya'aqov Hakohen ben Meir Yisrael Hakohen Melman, z"l

I was raised in the musar tradition of silence and meditative thoughtfulness, as were my father and grandfather before me.

http://seferchabibi.blogspot.com/2007/07/yahrzeit-of-my-father-27-tammuz.html
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EEDC1630F93BA35754C0A9649C8B63

Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua

(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)
Dedications are available.

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About Me

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I played violin with Reb Shlomo and studied under him for over nine years at hundreds of concerts and learnings. Shlomo wanted to give me smicha before he passed. Deepest influences: My father,obm, who was a great scientist and human being, and my grandfather, obm, who was a great Torah scholar who was a musmach of the Mir Yeshiva and taught in Slobodka in Russia before WW1, and was also personal friends with the Chafetz Chaim and came to America in 1914. He knew the Talmud by heart! You could stick a pin in a word and he could tell you what word was on the other side! And my mother, Esther bat Baruch, z"l, who was a scholar of classical Hebrew and Tanach and who gave me a love for the language. And her mother, Anna (Sucher) Deutsch, who was born in Horodenka, spoke six languages, and shared her aged wisdom and eternal sweetness with me. I studied at Brandeis, Hebrew College, Pardes as well as seven years at The Metivta/ITJ earning my Advanced Semicha (yoreh yoreh)under Rav Halivni. What's truly amazing is that Shlomo and Rav Halivni each received semicha from Rav Hutner! But my deepest influences of them all are my sweetest sweetest girls who have taught me the most!