I grew up in the 1960’s. Before you start picturing me as a stoned flower child with dangly earrings and long straight hair (OK, I did have the earrings and hair), I should tell you that I was not part of the “tune in, turn on, drop out” crowd, nor was I much of an activist, antiwar or otherwise. I remained rather conventional; my big rebellion was allowing myself to major in chemistry instead of elementary education. But I did absorb one sixties value, that of questioning authority – not destroying, but questioning skeptically.
As I wrote here two years ago, my attitude toward authority is complicated. It is affected by the inherent validity of the authority, the character of the person occupying an authoritative position, and the degree of mindlessness with which people are bowing to that authority and why. My first manager at DuPont tried to explain away the very different status of scientists and engineers versus management by saying the latter had authority according to the organization chart, but we technical folks had “the authority of expertise.” Right. My husband and I are reading a book by Tom Nichols called The Death of Expertise, which examines how a long-standing American tendency toward anti-intellectualism has mutated into a proud rejection of expertise and celebration of ignorance (with a veneer of confirmation bias obtained from the internet) and going with one’s gut. Democracy itself can lead some to conclude that, since people are deemed equal under the law, all opinions are equally worthy; thus, facts and reasoning don’t matter and may even get in the way.
In this week’s Torah portion, we read about an explosion of rebellions among the Children of Israel after they realize the adults among them are doomed to die in the wilderness instead of settling in a land of milk and honey. In this state, the people are especially vulnerable to demagoguery. All that is needed is a spark to set the people off, and we have three: Korach, Dathan, and Abiram. According to Jacob Milgrom, you can actually identify four specific rebellions: Korach and his 250 followers against Aaron; Dathan and Abiram against Moses, Korach and the Levites against Aaron, and the community against Moses and Aaron. (The JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers [Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1990], p. 415).
Korach is a Levite who is jealous of the priests, Aaron and his sons. Dathan and Abiram are jealous of Moses, because they are Reubenites; Reuben was Jacob’s oldest son, so they should be in charge. (A third Reubenite, On ben Pelet, was with them briefly, then either left on his own or was pulled out of it by his wife.) Dathan and Abiram are particularly disrespectful toward Moses, refusing to meet with him and claiming he’d taken them from a land of milk and honey (i.e., Egypt). These three, plus 250 chieftains, reject the authority of Moses and Aaron on the grounds that “all the congregation is holy” (16:3) and Moses and Aaron have gone too far. But the Lord hadn’t said that they are holy, but that if they keep the covenant, they will be holy (Exodus 19:5-6).
After the Lord offers to destroy the whole congregation, Moses instead proposes a test of authority. If Korach, Dathan, and Abiram die like other men, then the actions of Moses are not being directed by the Lord. If, however, something new happens, if the earth swallows up them and their households, burying them alive, then that is proof of the legitimacy of Moses’ authority. And the earth immediately opens up and swallows Korach, Dathan, Abiram, and their households. And the 250 fellow travelers who tried to offer incense, having totally forgotten what happened to Nadav and Avihu (Lev. 10:1-2), are consumed by fire.
Does this shock the people into acceptance? Of course not! These are cranky Israelites. They rebel against Moses and Aaron for taking them out of Egypt and slavery. But the authority of Moses and Aaron derives directly from the Lord, so rejecting that authority necessarily means rejecting the Lord, and that won’t do. And so, they are hit with a particularly bad plague which kills 14,700 until Aaron makes expiation for the people. Then we’re back to staff tricks. Aaron’s authority is affirmed when his staff, and only his, among those of the tribal chieftains, sprouts buds and produces blossoms and almonds. The rebellion ends, and the Israelites start to get used to the fact that they will spend the next 38-plus years in the wilderness.
This Shabbat and Sunday are also Rosh Chodesh Tammuz. I’ve been told that this was the marker after which it was warm enough to swim in the river in Belarus. The additional Torah reading, Numbers 28:9-15, describes the sacrifices for the Sabbath and Rosh Chodesh. The special haftarah is the last chapter of Isaiah, 66:1-24.
Quotes about Demagoguery
We may repeat the awful revolutionary history of the 20th century because of the vulnerability of social movements to demagoguery. Todd Gitli
We have demagogues on all sides of the political spectrum. It’s not helpful. It’s destructive. It’s harmful. So, I don’t like demagoguery whether it comes from the left, it comes from the right. Ron Johnson
A demagogue is a person with whom we disagree as to which gang should mismanage the country. Don Marquis
Are there any monuments built to demagogues? I just don’t think so. Cory Booker
One-Liners about Rebelling
https://www.reddit.com/r/Jokes/comments/236m3v/did_you_hear_about_the_pigeon_rebellion/ submitted 3 years ago by Hungover0wl
Did you hear about the Pigeon rebellion?
Yeah, it was a “coo” d’état.
I’m feeling rebellious today, so I drank coffee in my tea shirt. By “JamesDragonrider“
The difference between a rebel and a patriot depends upon who is in power at the moment. — Sidney Sheldon
Speaking of plagues:
Things ID (Infectious Disease) 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, 2013: Spelunking (rabies, histoplasma)