Korach: Father’s Day for worthy sons and daughters

Korach: Father’s Day for worthy sons and daughters

We read Parshat Korach this year on the eve of Father’s Day. Honoring our fathers — showing them reverence and deference — is, of course, a daily obligation, not to be reserved or limited to formal or ceremonious occasions alone. Parshat Korach and its traditional exposition offer us some timely counsel, not only on how to celebrate on June 17, but on how to comport ourselves as worthy sons and daughters throughout the year.

In the opening verse of our Torah portion, its title character is identified as “Korach, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi.” Rashi asks why the geneaology stops with Levi and excludes his father, Jacob. Rashi explains that Jacob asked mercy of the Divine Author, not wanting his name associated with the “machloket” — the dispute, the fateful conflict which divided his two descendants. 

Rashi points out that a different method of identification is employed when I Chronicles 6:23 lists the Levites who were appointed by King David “to be in charge of song in the House of the Lord” and who served in the Tabernacle of the Tent of Meeting and then in Solomon’s Temple. Among them was Heman the Son of Joel, who traced his lineage all the way back to “…Ebiasaph, the son of Korach, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, the son of Israel.”

Israel is the sacred name bestowed on Jacob, who is conspicuously absent from the lineage in Parshat Korach. It was an honor for Israel (Jacob) to be mentioned when describing the service rendered God by his distant descendants. The “harmony” which was their sacred task certainly compared favorably with the jealousy, the family feuding, the mutual hostility, the partisan infighting, the angry words, and the bloody rebellion described in our Torah reading: the ignominy which Jacob found so painful. Little wonder the patriarch “asked” not to be mentioned in Parshat Korach.

Yaakov Avinu, “Jacob our Father,” the eponymic founder of Israel and progenitor of the twelve tribes, is a father to us all. The two genealogies of Korach (in Numbers and Chronicles) combine to teach us that we most effectively honor “Jacob our Father” — that we are truly worthy to be associated with his name — when we embrace harmony as our sacred task, eschewing partisan politics, dissension, angry words, and Jewish communal infighting, even when we “know” we are in the right.

Yalkut Shimoni states that the sons of Korach were deeply concerned with honoring their father, yet also managed, on principle, to show proper deference to Moses, his antagonist. It is for this reason that “the sons of Korach did not die” in the calamitous aftermath of their father’s rebellion (Numbers 26:11 –- this, in apparent contradiction to the account in our parshah). It is no coincidence that a number of chapters in the Book of Psalms are attributed to the sons of Korach. True to their Levitical status, they, too, were singers: They understood the critical importance of harmony. More significantly, they selflessly acted on this conviction when Jewish national unity was at its lowest point.

The University of Notre Dame’s iconic president, Father Theodore Hesburgh, famously said, “The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” By asserting the pain of Jacob in the Book of Numbers, and suggesting his justifiable pride in the Book of Chronicles, Rashi, the father of three daughters, offers us (as it were) a corollary to Father Hesburgh’s wisdom: “The most important thing that children can do for their fathers (and grandfathers and more distant forbears) is to love each other.”

This Father’s Day, and every day from this Father’s Day to the next — not just on special, formal, or ceremonious occasions — may we lovingly strive to be worthy sons and daughters of Israel. May we strive, notwithstanding the diverse voices among us, to live in harmony.

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