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{Originally posted to Rabbi Weinberg’s website, The Foundation Stone}

It seems much easier for other people to send me to hell than it is for me to wish the same for them. Those who want to send me on my way often quote this week’s portion, “Do not be like Korach and his assembly (Numbers 17:5).” I definitely do not want to be swallowed up by the earth, nor do I even wish such a fate for those who hurt me, but I do wish a different place for them; that of Korach’s children, “The sons of Korach did not die (26:11).”

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The Midrash elaborates, “When the sons of Korach saw the gaping abyss below on one side and the fires of hell on the other, they were unable to open their mouths to confess their sins. But as soon as thoughts of repentance stirred in their hearts, the Holy One, Blessed is He, accepted them (Shocher Tov 45:4).”

 

I don’t wish to send anyone to hell, but to the middle. I want them to experience just enough displacement for them to able to objectively look at themselves. My problem is, I just can’t picture the effectiveness of responding to, “Go to hell!” with, “Be displaced for a while!”

 

Korach’s sons were not the first people in this week’s portion to be displaced. Moses was first. He displaced himself! “Moses sent for Datan and Aviram the sons of Eliab, who said, ‘We will not come up’ (16:12).” After pleading with God, “Do not respect their offering. I have not taken one donkey from them, nor have I hurt one of them (Verse 15),” and after hearing God instruct, “Separate yourselves from among this assembly, that I may consume them in a moment… Get up from around the tents of Korach, Datan, and Aviram (Verses 21-24),” “Moses rose up and went to Datan and Aviram, and the elders of Israel followed him (Verse 25)!”

 

Moses understood “Separate yourselves from among this assembly,” as an instruction to step out of his immediate environment, and objectively look at what was happening.

 

If Moses feels he need plea and justify himself, “Do not respect their offering. I have not taken one donkey from them, nor have I hurt one of them,” he lost perspective. Moses had to experience displacement from the immediate circumstances. He had to temporarily displace himself.

 

The elders of Israel who followed him had also needed to be displaced. God instructs them after they followed Moses, to, “Depart now from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest you be swept away for all their sins (Verse 26).” Any contact with the corrupt influences of Korach and his followers would have weakened the clarity of the elders. They had to displace themselves.

 

Korach’s sons experience forced displacement. It was sufficiently effective to prevent them from being completely swallowed, but was not enough to save them from their precarious perch above hell. They were still Korach’s sons. They, in their desperate need to have a place, continued to hold onto their identity as Korach’s sons.

 

Perhaps a response better than, “Be displaced for a while!” to someone sending me to hell is a polite suggestion to, “Displace yourself for a while. It worked for Moses. It was effective for the elders.”

 

Rather than approaching Shabbat as forced displacement, we can, as instructed by the Torah, “Let every man remain in his place; let no man leave his place on the seventh day (Exodus 16:29).” We can use Shabbat as did Moses and the elders, to self-displace, to temporarily step outside the world to clearly look at ourselves and appreciate and celebrate the beauty of our place in God’s creation.

Shabbat Shalom,

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