This single statement encapsulates Korach’s fatal opposition to the appointment of Aaron, Moses’ brother, to the position of high priest in this week’s Torah portion. Korach demands of Moses: Why have you appointed your brother to this exalted position? We are all holy; we are all the same and do not need someone to serve on our behalf.
Not so, says God. There are differences amongst people (and among nations) which should be acknowledged and celebrated rather than negated or shunted to the side.
Perhaps this idea is relevant to a major ongoing news item.
This past week I learned that in addition to my U.S. citizenship, I am also an English citizen by descent. While it may be too late to vote on the Brexit referendum, I will excercise my right to weigh in on the issue from a Jewish perspective.
The European Union was conceived after WWII as a way to stabilize a historically volatile continent which was the source of many centuries of war and mayhem
To some degree it succeeded. However, there were fundamental differences that were glossed over which are now coming to a head. One major difference is the fact that each country in the E.U. has maintained its own language and culture (in addition to national budgets, monetary policy, and defense establishments).
This has similarities to the story in the Torah about the Tower of Babel in which all of civilization united to form a common society. But the people in the generations between Noah and Abraham went further than 20th century Europeans to enshrine their unity: They built a tower which reached up to the skies and symbolized the supremacy of humankind, and their civilization’s rejection of God and the seven Noahide laws given to all mankind.
In response to this development, the Torah tells us, God mixed up their languages “so that one will not understand the language of the next.” This brought the entire enterprise to a permanent halt. Since that period of human history, no philosophy or system has successfully eliminated the distinctions between the ‘seventy nations’ enumerated by the Torah, though many have tried.
For the moment it appears that Europe’s attempt at unification has met the same fate.
So is a breakup of the E.U. good for the Jews or bad for the Jews?
Well, here’s one way to look at it.
The reason my ancestors lived in Russia was because Poland had become inhospitable to Jews; the reason they had lived in Poland was because Germany had become inhospitable to Jews; and the reason they lived in Germany was because Spain and France had become inhospitable to them and their Jewishness.
Now, just imagine what would have happened if there were a common union between all of these nations and they all, at one time, prohibited Jewish settlement! And now, history is coming full circle as we again witness a frightening return of naked anti-Semitism across the European continent disguised (and legitimized) as opposition to Israeli policy essential to its survival.
It brings to mind the old Bob Dylan song called ‘The Neighbourhood Bully’ in which he succinctly articulates the anti-Semitism we face.
“The neighborhood bully he just lives to survive.
He’s criticized and condemned for being alive.
He’s not supposed to fight back, he’s supposed to have thick skin.
He’s supposed to lay down and die when his door is kicked in.
He’s the neighborhood bully.”
So is European unity good for the Jews or bad for the Jews?
I’ll leave that to you to decide.