The author explains that in this Torah portion, God is given the name “the God of the Spirits of All Flesh,” which can be instructive for our own understanding of the Divine and its influence in our lives, particularly in terms of LGBTQ inclusion in the wider community.
By Rabbi Rick Brody
The God of the Spirits of All Flesh
by Rabbi Rick Brody on Friday June 11, 2010
29 Sivan 5770
Numbers 16:1 – 18:32
In the midst of the story of the rebellion waged by the Levite Korach against Moses and Aaron— the main event of this week’s parashah — the Torah presents a unique name for God that seems to have an immediate and powerful impact on God’s actions. This name, El Elohei HaRuchot L’chol Basar (God, the God of the Spirits of All Flesh), can be very instructive for our own understanding of the Divine and its influence in our lives, particularly in terms of LGBT inclusion in the wider community.
First, some background on the story: The Torah and subsequent interpretive tradition understand Korach’s rebellion to be one that deserves no mercy. While I am not interested here in exploring the reasons given for this rebellion or even the reasons why Torah is so critical of it, I do wish to review a particular element of the story before moving into my message — namely, the question of punishment for the rebels. Hashem’s initial response to the attempted coup is to destroy the entire community of Israelites — all those who have gathered at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. Moses and Aaron respond to this potential injustice by appealing passionately to Hashem not to annihilate the entire people; rather, God ought to focus on those actually responsible for the wrongdoing that is occurring: “When one man sins, will You be wrathful with the whole community?” (Num. 16:22). This appeal seems to work immediately, as Hashem then instructs Moses and Aaron to encourage the masses of people to withdraw from the site of the imminent destruction, away from Korach and his fellow rabble- rousers. Yet, the above question is not all that Moses and Aaron offer to the Eternal. They first address Hashem with the special appellation, El Elohei HaRuchot L’chol Basar (God, the God of the Spirits of All Flesh!, or — as JPS translates — “O God, Source of the breath of all flesh!”).
The two parts of the brothers’ plea — their special name for God and their call for just treatment of the Israelite nation — work hand in hand. Underlying both components is a recognition of the integrity and holiness of all creation. Moses and Aaron remind the Eternal that a Divine breath or spirit flows through all living things and that every single creature deserves the utmost consideration — consideration that must include a distinction between the innocent and guilty. For those of us who strive for a world in which Jews of all sexual orientations and identities can celebrate their lives and their love freely within the community, this naming of the Divine is an important reminder of God’s recognition of us all. It can strengthen us in our struggles and help to influence those in positions of power.
I believe there are deeper messages embedded within this Divine name that are also insightful for us. Moses and Aaron choose to make an explicit link between the spiritual (ruchot — winds, breath) and the physical (kol basar — all flesh, all living things) aspects of Godliness. The breath that cycles through our bodies is a constant reminder of the Divine essence that animates us all. Body and spirit are intertwined. A healthy relationship with God and with Torah is one that understands that spiritual, elevated experiences are found within the physical world. We celebrate the gift of our bodies, especially by sanctifying loving relationships that share bodily intimacy. Our identities and romantic attractions are certainly about so much more than “just sex;” yet it is also the case that we attain more of our Godliness when we embrace the sexuality that God has given to each of us and honor the yearning of every member of our communities for companionship and pleasure in their bodies — our bodies, the ones into which God has placed our spirited breath. May this recognition lead us all to greater freedom, greater happiness, and greater holiness.