Earlier this week we celebrated an act of rebellion as audacious and shocking as it was 240 years ago, as a group of men declared a group of colonies in North America to be an independent nation devoted to liberty. It is easy to see hubris in their actions; a group of wealthy land (And sometimes people) owners using populist anger against taxes, issues and ideas we still struggle with. What comes across from that time period is how much hope this profoundly young, often diverse group of dreamers had in what they were creating.
Ironic, then, that we celebrate the American Revolution the same week we as Jews read about another, that of Korach and his band. His rebellion is often thought of as an act of ego run amok or heresy or tribal feud, but I have another thought: his was a rebellion of despair.
Israel is in the desert, now banished from the Holy Land due to their sin of the incident of the spies. This generation shall not enter the land, a whole generation dying in the wilderness. The very next thing we read is "Korach Took", and so begins the rebellion.
It is that strange wording that tells me this was a revolt of hopelessness. Midrash Rabbah reads: it does not say now Korach contended, or assembled, or spoke or commanded, but Korach took. What did he take? He took nothing! It was his heart that carried him away.
His heart wasn't hardened, wasn't made indifferent; rather, Korach panics. He sees only doom, only an endless night of torment. In fact, the midrash goes on to say that the reason Moses has the contest of leadership in the morning is to give Korach and his band a chance to catch their breath and repent; to admit that they went overboard and step back from their grief. But he cannot. The sin of Korach is not the rebellion; it is that he lets his feelings of powerlessness lead him and others to misery.
Does this sound familiar? There are many voices right now telling us that there is no hope, that there is only despair in darkness. Voices the demonize and search for easy solutions. Voices of bigotry hard and soft; the slander against religion or race, and fear mongering, those who will tell you you're either with us or against us.
There is much to despair in the past week--in the past two days-- including and especially the loss of a voice of Hope against despair, the voice of Elie Wiesel. He taught us that despair is not the answer but a call to action, that hope is a gift we give to each other, that Injustice requires action, and that the greatest of sins is indifference. Wiesel reminded us again and again--through his teaching and testimony -- that, in his words, We have to go into the despair and go beyond it, by working and doing for somebody else, by using it for something else.
Korach was paralyzed by fear and anguish. He could not see a way through despair to work for others. He stands as a warning , especially in this time when we might ourselves give into the voices of darkness around us. There are many who memorialized Wiesel this week; we do best honor to his memory when we choose action and hope. May we be deserving of hisel memory. Amen.