Queering the Rebellion: Bringing in the Faith (Parashat Korach)

The author writes that Jews are wrestlers–we wrestle with God, and we wrestle with other Jews, and we wrestle with ourselves. The author challenges us to find our way to stand still and to dig in, to be present and accounted for, until the plagues, both external and internal, come to an end.

June 16, 2007

By Sasha T. Goldberg

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Parashat Korach
Queering the Rebellion: Bringing in the Faith
by Sasha T. Goldberg on Saturday June 16, 2007
30 Sivan 5767
Numbers 16:1 – 18:32,Shabbat

We Jews, we wrestle. We wrestle with G-d, and we wrestle with other Jews, and we wrestle with ourselves.

We modern day wanderers, we wrestle to conceptualize, internalize, debate and dispute G-d, and we wrestle over Israel, both within and outside of the tribe, and, when the day is over, we lie down and wrestle with ourselves. We wrestle with our own animal bodies; working to codify, quantify and clarify what we want, who we are, what we seek, and, ultimately, whom we serve. We draw our lines and mark our sides of the map, erasing and darkening our personal borders a thousand times over.

Luckily, we are not re-inventing the wheel here. Korach tells just such a story. Post-Exodus, after G-d has parted the Red Sea, and Moses has led us out of the desert, and, finally, we are exiled, we do what any good bunch of overheated, exhausted, sunburned, riled up group of Jews would do: We argue. We argue about which way to go, both literally and metaphorically. The notion that decisions, division of power, or even basic responsibility might be delegated without struggle seems to be an impossibility.

Essentially, Korach and his followers are restless, jealous of Moses’ leadership and their own lot in life, respectively, and, particularly, the struggle attached to figuring out this new freedom.

And, within this restlessness, they want to challenge the system. And while this seems to be the natural cycle of life, sometimes it is actually possible, as it says in the parsha, to go too far.

Korach and his followers, in their quest for power, go so far out to the edge of the earth that they seem to have forgotten their history. Instead of remembering G-d, and their faith in G-d and G-d’s designation of Moses, they decide to fight the power, so to speak.

Now, perhaps it’s needless to say that I agree: there are times to fight the power. But Korach, in my estimation, is a cautionary tale about throwing the baby out with the bath water. Korach and his followers are so invested in revolution against that they wind up revolting not against a system but against G-d, against each other, and against themselves. They revolt, it would seem, against their own collective faith in Moses, and, of course, by default, in G-d. Accordingly, because they have “banded together” against G-d, they are swallowed by the earth. Not dead, mind you, but swallowed; and what could be worse than watching your own lack of faith be contested in such a way?

It’s a tough parsha, Korach. It’s not about the faith-filled jumping into the Red Sea, and it’s not about glory. And when some of the Israelites still wish to blame Moses for the power and acts of G-d, power and acts that only G-d could create, it’s insult to injury, disbelief upon disbelief. And then, because of this continued disbelief, G-d puts a further plague on the Israelites. Moses and Aaron, watching, “they fell on their faces” in the devastation. There’s no doubt that Korach represents a challenging place and time. But Korach is also a tekiah (a call to action) of sorts, and I want us to remember, and to observe.

I want us to remember and to observe Moses. Moses, in all the madness of revolt, and plague, and devastation, “he stood between the dead and the living until the plague was checked”. And by the end, “Those who died of the plague came to fourteen thousand and seven hundred”.

And Moses, he just stood still. He stood still between the dead, and the living, which also means that he stood between the dying, and the living, and he must have stood still, in faith and in horror, for a very long time. And Moses, in this act of standing – he becomes a bridge.

In the modern Queer and Jewish communities, we are often listless. We often convince ourselves that we can either be Jewish or that we can be gay, or that we can be religious or we can be queer, and we divide ourselves over Israel, and identity politics, and sometimes we leave our homes so far behind that we, too, forget our centers of faith. It’s a perpetually confusing time for us edge-wanderers, and it’s hard, sometimes, to stand still and hold fast, to serve as a bridge. Especially, of course, when it’s always easier to disbelieve, and just throw out the whole system.

But what would it take, I wonder, to be Moses? What would it take to stand stock still in the chaos? To stand, between the dead and the living, waiting, in belief? How painful it must have been, to watch. And how many times must Moses have questioned himself, and G-d, and almost moved, screamed and cried out, standing like that? To not go down, himself, in his own doubt and in anguish? Moses, standing on the edge, the no man’s land between the dead of the living, uncharted territory, watching, waiting, believing, struggling, and hoping against hope; this is faith.

In this Pride month, I want to give us a brucha that we can stand as far out on our blue fringes as we want; to be as queer and as Jewish as we dare, as we imagine, as we desire, and that we can still have our centers of faith to hold us up. I want to give us a brucha that we get to be all the pieces of who we are and hold faith in the very palm of our hand. Let us know that we don’t have to trade in our faith to step outside of the dominant paradigm, and we don’t have to get eaten alive, either.

I challenge us, ultimately, to find our way to stand still and to dig in, to be present and accounted for, until the plagues, both external and internal, come to an end. If we can’t have faith, let us know that it’s not our revolution. Let us be the Moshe in the parsha of Korach.