Rabbis fear the "Korach syndrome" of dissenters who plague the Board and Committees, thats for sure.
Everyone focuses on the rebellion of Korach. I want to talk about what happens next.
There are these fire pans which figure centrally in the story. The 250 chieftans bring them with incense to offer- but then everyone gets burned including their pans. Keep in mind this was a coup d’eta because only the Levites are allowed to bring offerings in those fire pans. The fire pans of the destroyed men are gathered up by the very Levites whom they were rebelling against, and plated into the side of the Tabernacle. Forever reminding the people not only of the rebellion and its consequences but also of the “rightful” place of Israel’s “true” leaders.
The text says that God commanded these hammered-on firepans to be an “ot”—a sign—forever. We have other examples of "ot" in Torah that are so positive—the rainbow, Shabbat, brit milah. This "ot" is so negative. But it is a sign.
Something like a museum to failed rebellion, these firepans on the side of the Mishkan.
But the Ha-emek Davar, Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, takes this idea and spins it on its head. He comments that the fire pans are sacred because Korach and the 250 community leaders were not really rebels and sinners but were people with a love for God who only yearned to get closer. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, takes this thought even further and writes “the holiness of the fire pans symbolizes the necessary role played by skeptics and agnostics in keeping religion honest and healthy. Challenges to tradition are necessary because they stand as perpetual reminders that religion can sink into corruption and complacency. Plating the altar with the fire pans of the rebels is meant to remind us of the legitimacy, indeed the potential holiness of the impulse within each of us to rebel against religious stagnation and complacency...”
Which got me thinking to how we mount and display our own failures as individuals and as a society. How many of us have cut a photo in two when the other half of the photo is no longer in relationship with us? As if that part of our history is over and gone and we need no reminders of what we could have done better. Do we keep the exams we failed as reminders to study harder, or do we throw them in the fire at the cottage and firestarter to forever forget them? We make museums to remind us of when we failed miserably as humanity: Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Washington, and so on. It is so painful to see our shortcomings, our firepans on the Mishkan.
And what happens at the end of our parsha is amazing.
God tells Moses to collect a staff from the head of each of the 12 tribes, inscribe each man’s name on his staff, inscribe Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi, and deposit the staffs in the Tent of Meeting.The next day, Moses entered the Tent and Aaron’s staff has sprouted, blossomed, and borne almonds.
2 reminders in the face of the Israelites to stop their whining: the destroyed and misshapen firepans which had been almost melted by God and now get attached to the side of the Tabernacle, as a kind of weird decoration and warning at the same time; and the flowering staff of Aaron which is the opposite: life itself, blossoming from hardship and symbolizing a leadership not weighed down by those who would rather yell than discuss, rebel than dialogue, overtake and convince and connive rather than democratically discuss and hear and listen.
These are, then, our parsha suggests, two opposite ways of being in community: the firepan way, of infighting and nitpicking and always questioning and being a negative influence, which literally “melts down” a community; or the almond-bearing staff way: the flowering that results from constructive discussion, from the open-minded sharing of differing opinions, from the soul-searching that comes after a failed experiment; from the respect for leadership that good leadership engenders. I’m always working toward our community being the second kind, and I hope you are too.