These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[PEP Student] Community Building: By Width, Not Height.

Posted on June 23, 2011 by Tamara Frankel

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Dear Friends,

The scene: the Pardes bet midrash. The time: Thursday afternoon, an hour or so after class dismissal. The players: a bunch of students and big pile of books. Oddly I find myself at home in this lonely place. The books and the buzz of learning, although minimal as it is “off season” now, bring me solace and a lingering sense of community. But despite the fact that I may feel connected to the authors of this roomful of rabbinic works, my teachers and colleagues are not with me. They have left the building.

So as I sit, I begin to wonder: what good is access to and knowledge of our heritage without a חֶבְרֶה hevre (groups of friends) with which to share it? Conversely, what is the value of community without a shared vision and identity?

This week’s parsha, Parshat Korach features the clash between Korach and his followers and Moses and Aaron. There are endless interpretations given to explain what bothes Korach so much and why (or if) he objects to Moses and Aaron’s appointment as communal and cultic leaders. But the language of the Torah, before we even hear about Korach and his comrades’ protest, already hints to the flaw in Korach’s argument and demand for societal reorganizing. The Torah says:

In verses 1 and 2, before Korach and the other rebel rousers express their outrage and critique of the communal structure, the Torah emphasizes that these men did not band together with a pure heart, nor were they desperate to change the societal order because the current one violate their morals. They did not “assemble together”; they “assembled against Moses and against Aaron”. At first glance, it would seem that Korach and his ensemble present an honest and noble critique: Everyone in the nation is holy and as such, we demand that this hierarchy of Moses and Aaron be flattened! We demand lateral thinking! (pun intended) However, the text highlights that this critique is tainted with ego and arrogance, a thirst for personal stature. Or a more radical formulation: Korach and his company are not at all motivated by ideological or ethical objections; they are solely interested in promoting and elevating themselves.

As I read the parsha with this in mind, I am incensed (pun also intended) that these men try to advance their social and political standing in the name of building and democratizing the community! What chutzpah (audacity) they have to advance their personal interests, while professing to advocate for equality and justice for all!

Unfortunately we see this phenomenon all to often in our own communities. An individual or small group claims to want radical change in an institution’s management for the sake of the larger group, while s/he secretly wishes only to advance her/himself. Certainly, Parshat Korach instructs the ineffective and inappropriate ways to call for a more inclusive model of community.

But in addition, it also draws our attention to the difficulties that communal leaders encounter in their desire to lead the people without becoming inaccessible and sometimes withdrawn. In some ways, this reminds me of the struggle I often experience in the classroom: I want to guide my students to understanding and meaning, but I do not want to disseminate knowledge from on high. However, if I let learning take its course without any intervention, many students will drown in a sea of academic, spiritual and social-emotional obstacles. In this sense, students and teachers must be partners in teaching and learning. The hierarchy of the classroom must be flattened and mutual respect must prevail above all.

Over the past two years at Pardes, I had been blessed to have learned from and with so many wonderful students and teachers. I think what has made my experience so transformative is that it has taught me the tremendous importance of leveling the Torah playing field. Moreover my time at Pardes has shown me that the greatest opportunities for growth exist in environments which cultivate this kind of accessibility and collegiality in Torah study.

So, as I conclude my last official day of classes in the Pardes Educators Program, I bless us that we rally for change that is principled and sensitive to all members of the community.

May we recognize the sanctity in each person and enable ourselves and others to bring that sanctity into the world. May we ensure that everyone feel at home in the house of study.

May we personify civil disobedience, in every sense of the term.

Shabbat Shalom,


וַיִּקַּח קֹרַח, בֶּן-יִצְהָר בֶּן-קְהָת בֶּן-לֵוִי; וְדָתָן וַאֲבִירָם בְּנֵי אֱלִיאָב, וְאוֹן בֶּן-פֶּלֶת–בְּנֵי רְאוּבֵן. 1 Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men;
ב וַיָּקֻמוּ לִפְנֵי מֹשֶׁה, וַאֲנָשִׁים מִבְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל חֲמִשִּׁים וּמָאתָיִם, נְשִׂיאֵי עֵדָה קְרִאֵי מוֹעֵד, אַנְשֵׁי-שֵׁם. 2 and they rose up in face of Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty men; they were princes of the congregation, the elect men of the assembly, men of renown;
ג וַיִּקָּהֲלוּ עַל-מֹשֶׁה וְעַל-אַהֲרֹן, וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֲלֵהֶם רַב-לָכֶם–כִּי כָל-הָעֵדָה כֻּלָּם קְדֹשִׁים, וּבְתוֹכָם ה’; וּמַדּוּעַ תִּתְנַשְּׂאוּ, עַל-קְהַל ה’. 3 and they assembled themselves together AGAINST [literally up or above] Moses and AGAINST Aaron, and said to them: ‘You take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them; why then do lift you up yourselves ABOVE the assembly of the LORD?’ (Numbers 16:1-3)