I have always had a complicated relationship with authority. My mother was a teacher and my father, a doctor and medical school professor, and the authority figures of my childhood were mainly teachers and doctors, so it became difficult to tease apart different types of authority. (By the way, this also showed up on contemporaneous TV sitcoms like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, where business relationships became positively, unrealistically familial.) So, parents/teachers/doctors/anyone at the front of the room=equivalent types of authority=good. Civil authority=good as long as you obey, which meant being a “good little girl.” On the other hand, my parents communicated real skepticism about authority, especially my mother (especially about rabbis and some Jewish institutions); and I grew up in the 60’s, after all, so I tended to look at authority skeptically while simultaneously trying to be a good little girl. You see the conflict.
In the corporate world, managerial authority was conferred by ever higher layers of bosses and consisted most visibly of power over subordinates. Those in charge were people to whom you owed not just results, but obedience and support while placating (pandering to?) them, resenting them, and aspiring to be them. I always felt the corporate structure encouraged infantilism and stunted emotional development. I met a fellow recent retiree at a book sale last year. She kept saying “I don’t have a boss!” while I kept replying, “I’m free!”
All of which leads to this week’s Torah portion, Korach, which features three rebellions (Korach, the Reubenites, and the people post-geological punishment) pitting dissatisfied opportunists against Moses, Aaron and, thus, the Lord, in a contest of illegitimate versus legitimate authority. In light of the fact that they have just been condemned to wander in the wilderness for the next 38+ years, this is not surprising.
The details (from 2005. I like the summary I wrote then.):
“Korach, a Levite, is jealous of both his kinsmen and, though he seems to be lobbying for a more democratic form of government, he is probably just out to take over himself (in some bizarre way, this reminds me of Woody Allen’s “Bananas,” which I saw last weekend). In the second rebellion, Dathan and Abiram join forces with Korach, but they have their own agenda; as descendants of Jacob’s firstborn, Reuben, they seem to feel they should be the leaders. A third Reubenite who’s mentioned, On ben Pelet, apparently decides to back out (later commentators credit his wife with either convincing him there was nothing in it for him, or drugging him with wine so he sleep through it all).
“Moses is aghast at their insolence and is adamant that he has never profited from his position. [That’s also what Samuel does in the Haftarah (I Samuel 11:14 – 12:22). As he presents Saul to be crowned king, he tells the people how fair he’s been to them and how wicked they are to ask for a king – great start for a coronation.]. The chief rebels and their families, even their small children, die horribly as the earth opens and swallows them up. 250 fellow travelers are burned alive when they attempt to offer incense.
“You’d think this would shock the rest of the people into docility. Nope, now they all rebel, blaming Moses and Aaron for what happened to the others. It’s natural to blame the leaders. If it hadn’t been for Moses and Aaron, they’d still be happily miserable slaves in Egypt. Moses and Aaron proceed to save the people, Moses by convincing the Lord not to destroy them and Aaron by stopping the plague that consumes 14,700 of them. Then we are so far back to basics that it’s time again for staff tricks. This time, no serpents, though – instead, Aaron’s staff buds, blossoms, and produces almonds. And calm returns.”
Clay Bennett Aug. 12, 2012
Moses must go! (Political humor) [excerpts]
Where does one begin in describing the failures of Moses?
From the beginning, Moses’ plan for the liberation of our people was ill-planned. He lacked a comprehensive exit strategy. First, he came to the Pharaoh in the name of the God of Abraham demanding that he let us go to hold a feast to God in the wilderness. The problem with Moses is that he can’t open his mouth without bringing up God. He could have asked the Pharaoh in a secular way to allow us to go into the wilderness for a “team building exercise,” but his failure to grasp that Egypt is not a Hebrew nation led to the Pharaoh sanctioning us with the requirement that we make bricks without straw.
When the Pharaoh finally let us go, we ran out of food and Moses announced that bread would rain down from Heaven. I’m very concerned about the long-term effects of “manna” on people. There have been no scientific studies proving its safety and shouldn’t we be suspicious of anything that goes bad overnight?
We then ran out of water and Moses hit a rock and water came out, but how many rocks with millions of gallons of water in them are there in the wilderness?
This isn’t to say Moses hasn’t had his moments. I admired his leadership at the Red Sea. Had I known that we’d cross over to the other side and the Egyptians would drown, I wouldn’t have suggested stoning him at the time.
I have a better plan to bring us to peace and prosperity and make us respected in the world.
First, we must seek allies. Moses’ disastrous policies have damaged our standing in the international community as we Hebrews are now known for bringing plagues. To be a successful people, we must be like the nations around us. As a show of our international commitment and good-will, let us make god of gold, a golden calf. Then, we need to get back to the bargaining table with the Egyptians. I have a plan to negotiate with Pharaoh and get better working conditions for us.
The Hebrews need new leadership that understands we can’t go it alone in search of dreams of freedom, we must work with the International Community to secure our prosperity and reputation.
I’m Dathan and I approve this message.
Earthquake Safety Tips (selections)
The Onion, VOL 35 ISSUE 36, October 6, 1999
(Selections last sent out here in 2010)
Earthquakes can strike without warning, and being prepared for such a disaster can mean the difference between life and death. Here are some tips to help you and your loved ones make it through a quake:
- Those living in areas not prone to earthquakes can respond quickly to the plight of disaster victims in quake zones by complacently smirking and saying, “I told you so.”
- To minimize loss and damage in a quake, try not to own things.
- Practice your burrowing-out-from-under-40-tons-of-rubble skills ahead of time.
- Look out your window often. If you see a large, zig-zag-shaped crevasse moving rapidly from the horizon toward your home, step either to the right or the left.
- A doorway is the safest place to be during a quake. Eat, sleep and work in doorways.
- Be sure to mail your house-insurance payments a full five business days before a major earthquake strikes.
- In the event of a quake, get under something heavy, such as a desk, a table or your uncle.
- If you are caught in a major earthquake in Southern California and are part of the entertainment industry, take a moment or two to reflect on how grossly you’ve wasted your life.
Regal Jokes (selections)
Regal Joke (or Pun) of the Day:
When is a ‘piece of wood’ like a King?
Answer: When it’s a ruler!
Past Regal Jokes/Puns of the Day:
Which one of Henry VIII’s wives enjoyed playing golf?
Answer: Catharine Par
What do Richard the Lionheart and Winnie the Pooh have in common?
Answer: The same middle name!
What do you call it when Knights get up and change their seats at the Round Table?
Answer: The Knight Shift
Why were the early days of history called the dark ages?
Answer: Because there were so many knights!
Which English King invented the fireplace?
Answer: Alfred the Grate!
What was Camelot known for?
Answer: Its Knight life!
What did Anne Boleyn’s mother say when her daughter said that she had fallen in love with Henry VIII?
Answer: Don’t get too serious… that man’s not worth losing your head over!
What member of the royal family should always carry an umbrella?
Answer: the Reigning Monarch!
Kings sometimes found that uprisings were a peasant surprise.
When the King asked the fool for a joke the fool just shrugged. He was the court gesture.
No one knew who was attacking the castle until we learned it was the forces of Sir Nymbas of Cumulus, the legendary Dark and Stormy Knight!