Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Parashat Korach - Question Authority

I originally wrote this Drash (Torah study) in 2006. As I needed to use it for an online study group as well as a congregational presentation, I edited it for clarity and to bring it up to current standards.

Parashat Korach (Korah/bald)

Torah: Num. 16:1-18:32
Haftarah: I Sam. 11:14-12:22
Brit Chadasha: Rom. 13:1-7 (Lederer)
Acts 5:1-11 (Feinberg)

Question Authority

This parasha is primarily about leadership and how people are to relate to their leaders. Moses and Aaron were chosen emissaries of G-d to lead His people Israel. Korach and some of those in his circle took exception to this. They confronted Moses and Aaron and questioned their leadership. Their argument was that Israel was G-d’s chosen people, and they were all holy – Moses and Aaron were the same as everyone; no holier than anyone else. Korach and his followers expected an explanation, but that is not what they got.

Num. 16:28 Then Moses said, "This is how you will know that the L-RD has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea: 29 If these men die a natural death and experience only what usually happens to men, then the L-RD has not sent me. 30 But if the L-RD brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the grave, then you will know that these men have treated the L-RD with contempt."

16:31 As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart 32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, with their households and all Korah's men and all their possessions. (NIV)

Korach and his men questioned the leadership G-d placed above them, and they got gulped. They never did get an explanation of why Moses and Aaron were their leaders, but simply proof that they were their leaders. The reason did not matter. G-d placed Moses and Aaron in a leadership position. That should have been explanation enough.

The Torah portion continues in chapter 17 with yet another physical sign of Aaron’s leadership. Various men in the camp put their staffs in a specified area, and Aaron’s started to bud – that was the sign that G-d said would show who the leader was. Again, there was no talk of why Aaron’s staff started blooming when those belonging to others didn’t – only that this was to be the sign.

Chapter 18 talks about the specific duties of Priests and Levites. 18:25-29 talks about tithing – this is the verse where we get the figure of 10 percent and are commanded to give this offering towards the maintenance of the temple, and in modern days to our congregation or fellowship.

The Haftarah portion ties in closely with the Torah portion. Samuel is reminding people of how G-d appointed Moses and Aaron to lead. He reminds them of the consequences of disobedience.

I Sam.12:14 If you fear the L-RD and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the L-RD your God--good! 15 But if you do not obey the L-RD, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you, as it was against your fathers. (NIV)

Samuel links obeying G-d with obeying the king. And the king, as the leader, of course also has to submit to G-d.

In the Lederer selection for the Brit Chadasha, the Apostle Paul also talks about leadership. According to Paul, the governing authorities are placed in their positions by G-d, and as a result, the people must do what is expected of them as responsible citizens. He compares rebellion against authority with rebellion against G-d.

Rom. 13:7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (NIV)

Back in biblical days, Moses and Aaron were leaders appointed by G-d. They knew it; the people knew it. When we think of authority in a modern context, it can be applied to government officials. Government leaders are not appointed by G-d. They are elected by people. People who are not perfect. As a result, sometimes the government officials make decisions that we have trouble accepting as believers. It is at this point that we start to question authority.

I’ve been involved in my local activist movement for a number of years, and I can tell you that people who question authority are often branded as radicals, as rebels, but rebelling against authority – depending on how you define “rebellion” does not necessarily have to mean rebelling against G-d.

To speak up for what one believes in a peaceful, productive manner is not rebellion. It is as much a part of being a responsible citizen as paying taxes. Trying to influence the direction of public policy is not rebellion. It is an expression. It is not going to crumble the order of things to question authority. If leadership has merit, it can stand the test of inquiry. Moses and Aaron sure did.

In fact, I would be willing to go so far as to say that we have an obligation to speak up if we find something going on in society that goes against our consciences as believers. If we define “rebellion” as failing to tow the party line without question, we have a serious problem when that authority is acting in a way contrary to G-d, with potentially dangerous consequences. Using Paul’s writings as the basis for what constitutes rebelling against G-d through rebelling against the authorities, the people of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising were rebels. The righteous Gentiles who hid Jews during the Holocaust were rebels. And Praise the L-rd they were!

And now let’s look at how submitting to leadership related to the life of Yeshua. Yeshua submitted to G-d’s authority before worldly authority. He did many things that irked both the religious and political leaders of His day. He challenged the rabbis when they took him to task for His actions, and when the governing authority asked him to cool it, He wouldn’t. The result? We all know how this story ends (or, begins, because He will come again).

In our congregations of fellowship, we are to respect our leaders. Otherwise, the Body cannot function as a whole if the people are in rebellion against the leadership. This does not mean there will never be friction – in fact, some friction can be a positive thing. Leadership needs accountability as much as anyone else in a congregation. But it has to be dealt with in a positive and productive manner. The Matthew 18 principles of how to approach conflict resolution definitely apply. Also, because G-d’s word is Eternal, we still have an obligation to tithe, as outlined in Numbers 18:25-29, because this is how the work of the L-rd is supported.

As a side note, G-d has different roles for each of us. For some of us, it is leadership. It doesn’t necessarily mean those chosen to lead are better, or more holy, but that this is a given role for a purpose or season. Not everyone is gifted or intended to be a leader. Accepting our gifts and roles is important. Korach and his cohorts did not understand this.

It all comes down, as it usually does, to obedience towards G-d. G-d appointed Moses and Aaron as leaders, and when that was questioned, G-d got angry and there were consequences. G-d has many things He wishes us to follow – whether we do or not is our choice, and the results of our actions come about depending upon our choice to follow His word.

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