And you thought all hell broke loose in last week’s portion.
Now that the Israelites have been totally punished for their lack of faith in the Lord’s ability to enable them to conquer the Promised Land, they’re going to mourn, repent, and behave themselves ever after. Yeah, right.
Instead, several rebellions ensue. As I wrote here in 2007, “there are shortly at least two distinct rebellions afoot, one led by Korah and Levites who apparently want to be priests, and one led by Dathan and Abiram, who likely wanted to rule as befits heirs of Jacob’s first born Reuben (note that On ben Pelet is their co-conspirator at first but then disappears from the story. We read in the Talmud that his wife saved him by convincing him there was inadequate return on his investment. OK, so the Talmud didn’t use that exact phrasing, same idea…). And there were those 250 community leader-types who joined in. In fact, there were possibly four identifiable rebellions according to Jacob Milgrom: Dathan and Abiram versus Moses; Korah and the chieftains against Aaron; Korach and the Levites versus Aaron; and Korah and the community versus Moses and Aaron (The JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers [Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1990], p. 415).
“Moses is aggrieved, since he has never taken advantage of his position for personal gain, but he and Aaron plead for the people anyway when the Lord tells them to stand aside while the Israelites are wiped out (twice in this portion). And Dathan and Abiram are not just rebellious but rude (see snide remarks: 16:12-14). Moses realizes these rebellions cannot be stamped out by the usual punishment of plague or fire, but something awesome (literally) must happen. It does. The earth opens up and swallows Korah and company and the 250 are consumed by fire. How do the people react? Surely now they recognize who the good guys are and accept the legitimacy of their authority? Nope. The people blame Moses and Aaron for the deaths, so the people are hit with a plague which kills 14,700. After order is restored, Aaron’s authority is solidified by another my-staff-is-better-than-all-of-yours demonstration, as Aaron’s blooms with almond blossoms and yields nuts. And the portion ends.” I’m surprised the movie hasn’t been made yet.
The central figure of the rebellion(s) is Korach, a Levite priest-wannabe. Through the ages, Korach has been variously considered as “Korach the rebel, Korach the comedian, Korach the charlatan, Korach the materialist, Korach the spiritualist, Korach the democrat” (http://www.arjewishcenter.com/ ). His two principal arguments, like most demagoguery, are persuasive but wrong. First, Moses and Aaron have failed as leaders and so should be replaced (preferably with Korach, Dathan, and Abiram, which triumvirate would no doubt shortly whittle itself from three to one). But Moses and Aaron were given their authority directly from the Lord and that authority hasn’t been taken away. It is the people who have failed, not Moses and Aaron.
The other argument is that the entire congregation of Israel is holy, so what is special about these two brothers? Are they conning the people with an Orwellian ploy, “all Israelites are holy, but some are more holy than others”? As Dr. Benjamin Sommer of JTS points out (http://learn.jtsa.edu/content/commentary/korah/5773/where-does-holiness-come), Korach “regards holiness not as an achievement but as a right.” The texts concerning the holiness of the people clearly reveal a promise of future holiness, contingent upon obeying the Lord and adhering to the Covenant. Some of these texts, identified by Dr. Sommer, are Exodus 19.5–6, Leviticus 19:2, Numbers 15:40, and Deuteronomy 13:9 to 14:2. For the Israelites, the state of holiness must be earned; there is no Israelite (or Jewish) holiness gene.
Tomorrow and Sunday are Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, which, I have on good authority, in Belarus signaled the start of summer and swimming in the river. The second scroll Rosh Chodesh reading is about sacrifices, not summer, and it is Numbers 28:9-15. The Rosh Chodesh haftarah is Isaiah 66:1-24.
Quotes about Demagogues
“[Y]ou possess all the attributes of a demagogue; a screeching, horrible voice, a perverse, crossgrained nature and the language of the market-place. In you all is united which is needful for governing.”
― Aristophanes, The Knights
The secret of the demagogue is to appear as dumb as his audience so that these people can believe themselves as smart as he is.
A demagogue is a person with whom we disagree as to which gang should mismanage the country.
The demagogue is one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.
A priest was vested in his surplus and cassock ready to process at the beginning of the service.
His surplus was very ornate and he was swinging the incense pot which had smoke coming from it.
A lady touched him on the shoulder and said, “Darling, I love your dress; but your purse is on fire!”
(I have a tee shirt with this design on it, probably a gift from my sister M. IGP))
Speaking of plagues, here’s an item my favorite son wrote (ID = infectious disease):
Things ID has taught me not to do
by Alan Plotzker, March 20, 2013
–Be a doctor (MRSA, pseudomonas, hepatitis, etc.), soldier (meningitis), hunter (tularemia, trichinosis), farmer (aspergillus, anthrax), butcher (erysipelothrix), wrestler (gladiatorum), triathlete (leptospira), or fish-tank cleaner (mycobacterium marinum).
–Have a child in daycare (EVERY ILLNESS EVER)
–Own a cat (toxoplasmosis, bartonella, pasteurella), dog (pasteurella), or bird (psittacosis), rat (spirillum, streptobacillus, plague), or armadillo (leprosy)
–Have sex with men (HIV), women (HPV, trichomonas), or both (gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes, syphilis). Or even kiss someone (EBV).
–Go to the Northeast (babesiosis, Lyme disease), Southeast (ascaris, enterobius), Southwest (coccidiosis, plague), Northwest (crytptococcus outbreaks), or Hawaii (leptospira)
–Go anywhere ever (traveler’s diarrhea, malaria, yellow fever, dengue, cholera etc.)
–Stay here (St. Louis encephalitis, histoplasmosis, blastomycosis, tularemia, rocky mountain spotted fever)
–Eat beef (E. coli, tapeworms), chicken (salmonella), pork (trichinosis, cysticercosis, Yersinia enterolytica), dairy (listeria), saltwater fish (vibrio vulnificus/parahemolyticus), freshwater fish (diphyllobothrium), shellfish (paragonimus), rice (bacillus cereus), honey (botulism), or vegetables (more E. coli)….or bear (trichinosis)
–Drink water from a mountain stream (giardia) or tap water (cryptosporidium outbreaks)
–Open mail (anthrax)
–Swim in freshwater (naegleria), saltwater (vibrio vulnificus, mycobacterium marinum), pools (pseudomonas) or hot tubs (also pseudomonas)
–Gardening (sporothrix), or just generally going outside ever (every arthropod-borne disease).
-We haven’t learned about any space infections (yet), so I think being an astronaut might be ok.
Added June 4: Spelunking (rabies, histoplasma)