-Ethics of the Fathers, 5:17
But the Torah did not come to blur the distinction between the heaven and earth. In fact, its self-proclaimed task is “To differentiate between the holy and the mundane, between the pure and the impure” (Leviticus 10:10). Nor does Torah endeavor to create a uniform world society: its detailed laws delineate the many different roles (man and woman, Jew and non-Jew, Israelite, Levite and Kohen, full-time Torah scholar and layman, etc.) to comprise the overall mission of humanity.
Indeed, a uniform world could no more represent a harmonious state than a single-hued painting or a symphony composed entirely of identical notes could be said to be a harmonious creation. Like the third day’s “work of the waters” that harmonizes the divisiveness of the second day by means of further delineation, the Torah makes peace in the world — peace between the conflicting drives within the heart of man, peace between individuals, peace between peoples, and peace between the creation and its Creator — by defining and differentiating, rather than by blending and homogenizing.
-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“Who Was Korach?”
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
I continue to be reminded of several things based on my studies, my transactions on the Internet, and my conversations with my Pastor. The question of the purpose of Torah stands out because it has no simple answer. The Bible is a multi-layered, densely packed container of the wisdom of God as expressed in partnership with human beings. It functions on many levels, most of which are not obvious by a casual reading and often, not even by repeated readings.
For instance, one function of the Torah, according to Rabbi Tauber’s commentary, is to create harmony and peace between those things that are not alike in our world. As stated above, this includes:
…peace between the conflicting drives within the heart of man, peace between individuals, peace between peoples, and peace between the creation and its Creator — by defining and differentiating, rather than by blending and homogenizing.
This takes me to a blog post of Derek Leman’s which I’ve mentioned before: Torah and Non-Jews: A Practical Primer. I’ve already commented on this, but when studying a commentary on Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) Chapter 5, the issue of the purpose of Torah for Jewish and non-Jewish believers came up again, and rather forcefully. It would seem that the commentary on the Korach Rebellion (see Numbers 16) is a prime example of one of the purposes of Torah.
I’m a rather unusual Christian, which you know if you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time. I don’t believe that the Torah was done away with for Jews after Jesus and I do believe that Torah applies to Christians, but only in a specific sense, not in the manner it applies to the Jewish people. In my beliefs, I’m standing between to opposing opinions. Christianity believes (in general, there are exceptions) that the grace of Jesus Christ replaced the Law and that all believers in Jesus, Jews and Gentiles alike, are uniform in grace and no one is required to keep the commandments of the Law. Hebrew Roots believes that the Torah was never replaced by the grace of Messiah and that all disciples of the Master, Jews and Gentiles alike, are uniform in the Torah and everyone is required to keep the commandments of the Law in an identical manner (there are numerous variations to Hebrew Roots beliefs and what I am saying here is meant to be the most generalized expression).
I believe, as Rabbi Tauber states, that the Torah supports the promotion of peace between divergent people groups. In my case, it is intended to develop peace between Jewish and non-Jewish disciples of Messiah Yeshua (Christ Jesus) by defining and differentiating, rather than by blending and homogenizing.
In the “philosophy” of the United States of America, the principle of everyone having equal access to opportunities has been morphed into “equal achievement and acquisition.” That is, everyone should have all of the same stuff and live identical lives at the top of the economic and social status pile, so to speak, regardless of who you are, what you do, how hard you work, and so on.
That’s not realistic.
Neither is it realistic, or in my opinion, Biblical, to expect Jewish and non-Jewish believers in Christ to hop into a metaphorical mixing bowl and have a Sunbeam 12-speed mixmaster applied to their bodies and their identities so that once the mixing is done, everyone is the same, bloody, smooth, creamy consistency. Jews and Gentiles were differentiated by God and we are meant to stay differentiated.
Rabbi Tauber says:
What is peace?
Our Sages have said: “Just as their faces are not alike, so, too, their minds and characters are not alike.” Such is the nature of the human race: individuals and peoples differ from each other in outlook, personality, talents, and the many other distinctions, great and small, which set them apart from each other.
It is only natural to expect these differences to give rise to animosity and conflict. And yet, at the core of the human soul is the yearning for peace. We intuitively sense that despite the tremendous (and apparently inherent) differences between us, a state of universal harmony is both desirable and attainable.
But what exactly is peace? Is peace the obliteration of the differences between individuals and nations? Is it the creation of a “separate but equal” society in which differences are preserved but without any distinctions of “superior” and “inferior”? Or is it neither of the above?
It’s neither. We don’t blend and blur Gentile and Jew and we don’t create individual silos of “separate but equal”. But then what do we have left? Rabbi Tauber leverages the Creation story (another recent favorite of mine) to explain the answer.
This is why, explain the Chassidic masters, the Torah is associated with the third day and the third millennium. The number “1”, connoting a single entity or collection of identical entities, can spell unanimity but not peace. If “1” represents singularity and “2” represents divisiveness, then “3” expresses the concept of peace: the existence of two different or even polar entities, but with the addition of a third, unifying element that embraces and pervades them both, bringing them in harmony with each other by defining their common essence and goal, but also their respective roles in the actualization of this essence and the attainment of this goal — and thus their relationship with each other.
So the “third day” does not undo the divisions of the second. Rather, it introduces a “third” all-transcendent element which these divisions serve. And it is this dynamic of harmony by diversity that “completes” their differences and renders them “good.”
In the Genesis account, God ends a “day” by saying “it was good” … except on the second day? Why the second day?
Because on that day divisiveness was created; as it is written `it shall divide between water and water.'” However, the Midrash then goes on to point out that on the third day the Torah says, “it was good” twice, because then “the work of the waters,” begun on the second day, was completed. In other words, the division effected on the second day was a less than desirable phenomenon, but only because it was not yet complete; on the third day, this divisiveness itself is deemed “good.”
On the second day, God introduced disharmony and divisiveness and then on the third day, he inserted a new element which then created an overarching unity that embraces and pervades the two diverse roles bringing them into harmony without homogenizing them. They remain distinct, and they are bought into peace. And that is good.
Rabbi Tauber likens all this to Korach and the two-hundred and fifty leaders in Israel who rebelled against the authority of Moses.
They combined against Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and the Lord is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s congregation?”
–Numbers 16:3 (JPS Tanakh)
Korach apparently desired to bring “peace” by homogenizing all of the Levites with the Kohenim (Priests). However there were two things wrong with that plan. The first was that God did not desire to remove the distinctions between the Kohenim and the Levites. The second was the Korach’s motives were less than pure, both according to Midrash and according to the Torah record.
According to Midrash:
What exactly did Korach want? His arguments against Moses and Aaron seem fraught with contradiction. On the one hand, he seems to challenge the very institution of the priesthood (kehunah), maintaining that “as the entire community is holy, and G d is within them, why do you raise yourselves over the congregation of G d?” But from Moses’ response we see that Korach actually desired the office of the Kohen Gadol for himself!
And according to Scripture:
And Moses said, “By this you shall know that it was the Lord who sent me to do all these things; that they are not of my own devising: if these men die as all men do, if their lot be the common fate of all mankind, it was not the Lord who sent me. But if the Lord brings about something unheard-of, so that the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, you shall know that these men have spurned the Lord.” Scarcely had he finished speaking all these words when the ground under them burst asunder, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up with their households, all Korah’s people and all their possessions. They went down alive into Sheol, with all that belonged to them; the earth closed over them and they vanished from the midst of the congregation.
–Numbers 16:28-33 (JPS Tanakh)
I wrote this commentary as a single blog post but it exceeded 3300 words, so I decided to break it in half. Part 2 will be published in tomorrow’s “morning meditation.”