Shabbat Korah 5774

This hasn’t been the easiest week for the Jewish People and for the State of Israel. The kidnapping of three Israeli teenage boys on their way home for Shabbat from their yeshiva is traumatic enough. To add insult to injury, we await a vote at the Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly (scheduled for Friday) on a resolution calling PC-USA to divest from three multinational corporations–Hewlett-Packard, Motorola, and Caterpillar–whom they accuse of aiding and abetting Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians. You could say that the battle for Israel’s legitimacy is being waged on two fronts simultaneously.

Timing isn’t everything, but it’s something of consequence. And so I was deeply disturbed to read a column in Forwardthis week by Margaret Holub, headlined as follows: “I’m a Rabbi and I Support Presbyterian Israel Divestment.” As co-chair of the rabbinic cabinet of Jewish Voices for Peace, she attended the PC-USA assembly to lend support for the resolution. “We in JVP have come to the PC-USA in gratitude for their brave overture, in appreciation and friendship,” she wrote. “We look forward to bearing witness and speaking out together–it will be a fine model of interfaith work in action…”

I can’t help but think of this week’s Torah reading when pondering those words. The timing of Korah’s challenge to Moshe’s leadership, the content of his critique, and the alliances he brokers all have unfortunate parallels in the work of Jewish Voices for Peace. 

On Shabbat morning, I’ll elaborate on the connection between Korah and JVP. In the meantime, look at this midrash about Korah, and consider how it relates to JVP’s support of Presbyterian divestment.

“What is written directly before this passage? ‘Instruct them to make for themselves…fringes…and to attach to the fringe at each corner a thread of blue.’ Korah jumped up and asked Moshe, ‘If a cloak is entirely blue, what is the law? Should it be exempt from fringes/’ Moshe replied, ‘It is still subject to such obligation.’ Korah retorted, ‘The blueness of an entirely blue cloak cannot free it of obligation, but four blue threads can do so?’ He went on, ‘If a house is full of Torah scrolls, what is the law? Should it be free of the obligation of having a mezuzah?’ Moshe replied, ‘It still needs a mezuzah.’ Korah snapped back, ‘The entire Torah cannot exempt a house, but the two passages in the mezuzah exempt it?’ These things–you have not been commanded concerning them. You are just making them up.'” (Bemidbar Rabbah 18:3)

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi David Wise