A Drash for Korach (5781)
by Marc Mangel
It is rare – and perhaps never happened – that the process of writing a drash lead directly to a change in my behavior. But this one did.
It is difficult to think about this parsha without the mutiny dominating one’s thoughts, and with good reason.
The imagery is powerful and the rebellion uses more than half of the verses (51 of 91 verses). The chazal teach us much from the rebellion of Korach, and I have a bulleted list of topics and verses; if you want to see them write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
However, the parsha is not only about Korach; the remainder is about the Levites and redemption of the first born. I decided to see what can be learned from the rest of the parsha. Here are three thoughts.
First, job of the Levites is to assist the priests. The chazal teach that this secondary role reminds the Levites to be humble.
Second, the chazal interpret Ch 17, v23-24 about the speed with which Aaron’s staff blossomed and produced fruit to mean that the Levites and priests did their jobs with alacrity and liveliness, and that we should also behave this way.
Third, in her book A Portion of Kindness, Rosally Saltsman riffs on Ch 18, v 29 “From all your gifts you shall raise up every gift of HaShem, from all its best part, its sacred part of it”.
She writes “The Kohanim receive a tithe from the tithes of the Leviim. It’s a tenth of a tenth, the original tenth being given by the rest of the nation. Which tenth are they supposed to give? The best.”, and concludes that “when we give charity, it is supposed to be good quality goods”.
What do these mean for our own lives?
First, we should be humble rather than arrogant about being chosen for this role.
Second, we should have a sense of urgency to make the world better.
Third, giving tzedakah is one way to make the world better, and we need to think about what and how we give. When we give Tzedaka it can be tangible goods or money, but it should always be “The best”.
For tangible goods, that means not to give your junk to Good Will or a similar organization. Earlier this year, I heard a NPR interview with a VP for Good Will in charge of taking stuff that has been given to them to the dump because they cannot use it. Imagine the waste of person power that this is. In the interview, she said “If you would not give it to your picky Aunt Muriel, don’t give it to us”.
Many of us give money by charge card. Often when we give by charge card, we are asked if we are willing to pay a slight percentage more to cover the cost of processing the charge. This number is often about 3%, so we are then asked if we will give $103 instead of $100.
I have been ambivalent about this request, sometimes honoring it and sometimes not (usually depending on what I thought about the mission or the leader of the organization to which I was donating). But writing this drash made me realize that this is not giving “The best”. By not honoring the request, I reduce my donation from the best to something less. Henceforth, I will always say yes to covering the transaction cost.
These are a few things we can learn from parshat Korach that don’t have to do with demagogues and rebellion.