Shabbat Unplugged! D’var Torah

The story in this week’s Torah portion, of Korah and his followers, is one of warning. It begs us to consider the gap between blindly following our impulses and doing what we know from Torah to be right. Korah was not alone in his rebellion, but got as far as he did because so many people were swayed to agree with and bolster Korah’s claims about Moses. They forgot their ethics in the emotion and trust they had in this charismatic nay-sayer, and were willing to throw away the journey toward the Promised Land out of greed.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin writes that the “conflict between Moses and Korah reflects a tug of war within the human spirit… Korah denies the importance of the laws. He says, ‘Who needs this system of do’s and don’ts, you shalls and you shall nots? We’re holy already.’ Certainly this perspective was attractive to every Israelite who wanted to be left alone. Who wants to be told what to do and what not to do? If I want to commit adultery, who are you to tell me I shouldn’t?”

In times of stress, manufactured emergency and tyrannical movements, this is precisely the time to uphold even more scrupulously one’s own identity and ethics and uphold the lessons of history.

This week the Federal government decided that every migrant refugee from Central America who crosses our borders will be prosecuted as a criminal. And as a result, whole families have been torn apart, children to live in overcrowded immigration centers—and sent all over the country as foster children as their parents are treated as criminals instead of the desperate refugees they are, fleeing corrupt and tyrannical governments and countries in favor of a better life. The very story of the immigrants’ dreams that propelled our ancestors to come to this country.

When the rule of law is raised up, higher than the morality that underpins them. THAT is law in the service of injustice. That is what the Nazis did in Germany – they legalized dehumanization.
There is the heart-breaking story of five-year old, Jose, who was separated from his parents near the border in El Paso, after his family’s trek from Honduras. He was sent to a foster family in Michigan, and cried himself to sleep every night. He refused to take off his outfit he arrived in for two full days. The indescribable trauma a young child experiences with separation from his parents – it is unconscionable. The suffering is emotional and physical. That’s why the American Pediatrics Association recently came out with a letter to the Federal government decrying the practice.

What the government should be doing is passing new legislation for the DREAMERS, immigrants who though not born in this country and though their parents came to the country illegally, know nowhere else but the US as home. Many DREAMERS have worked extremely hard toward their education and want to contribute to this country. Our government has repeatedly and unconscionably failed them again and again.

What do we do in the face of tyranny? When leaders who distort truth and undercut our ethics claim to represent us? We vote them out. We discuss it. We contribute to organizations that support good causes. We learn from peers in other countries who have been subjected to tyranny. Above all, we stay calm when Korach-like leaders try to exploit our fear of terrorism. We must not let fear dictate our actions or inaction. We stand out. We must be as courageous as we can. There is much more to sya bout these and 20 recommendations Timothy Snyder makes in a small book called On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.

What really gets me about the Federal government’s actions this week is that Jeff Sessions has defended the policy of prosecuting adult migrants as criminals and therefore separating them from their children by quoting the Bible about the importance of following the rule of law. Yet every Hebrew prophet and for the Christians—even Jesus—cried out when the law no longer served the people. If we’ve learned nothing else from the last century, we have learned that human decency and morality must always come before the rule of law, and especially when that law is inflicted as a tool to dehumanize.

Stay awake. Remain vigilent. Protest Call your officials to demand an end to this awful practice. And read a small book by Timothy Snyder. It costs $9 at Sundance Books in Reno.

The story of Korach from this week’s parsha is a warning of what can happen when leaders confuse the service and duty of leadership with self-glorification. That is what Korach failed to understand about Moses: he was never a leader for fame or personal glory. He was a reluctant servant of God and our people, who cared deeply about the flourishing and promise of the community.

Shabbat shalom.