“As the climate crisis worsens, the ground opening up and swallowing Korach’s band does not feel as far-fetched as it once may have. The earth is not an endless supply of resources for our consumption, and greed will only exacerbate the situation.”
My grandfather, I am told, would say: “You know what Korach’s problem was? The Torah says, ‘Vayikach Korach.’ (‘Korach took.’) Korach was a taker.”
The week of Parshat Korach this year marks my maternal grandfather Rabbi Mayer Weisenberg’s z’l fourth yahrtzeit. He modeled a life of Jewish values, leading by example for his family, community, and beyond. In many ways, he is the reason my life is grounded in yiddishkeit, and I dedicate this dvar torah to him.
The Israelites journey on through the desert when Korach, from the tribe of Levi, gathers 250 people and provokes a rebellion. As one might expect, rebelling against Moses and by extension God did not end well: the very ground underneath their feet opens and swallows the rebels whole, along with all their possessions.
The legacy of Korach’s rebellion does not end there. We learn later in the parsha that the tribe of Levi will not inherit its own portion of land in Israel as the rest of the tribes would.
Why? The reason for this may go back those first words of the parsha:
“And Korach took.” (Numbers 16:1) What he took is unclear, and the word choice is odd in context. Commentaries run the gamut,1 but what is clear is that this was an individual’s selfish, power hungry act. Korach’s mentality of “taking” reveals that he is not a true leader, and it has consequences for his tribe for generations to come.
It is the role of leaders, including congregational rabbis like my grandfather, to give to their communities and the earth that sustains us – everything from guiding congregants through lifecycle events to teaching about giving the land time to rest during the shmita year.
As the climate crisis worsens, the ground opening up and swallowing Korach’s band does not feel as far-fetched as it once may have. The earth is not an endless supply of resources for our consumption, and greed will only exacerbate the situation.
The shmita year is a powerful reminder every seven years that we are not the true owners of land or any of our earthly possessions. As dwellers here on earth, it is on us to steward this land we’ve been gifted and to work together to prevent further irreversible harm. May we be guided by true leaders in doing so and be reminded this week to care for the earth and each other.
¹ Explanations include: Korach separated himself from the community (Rashi, Midrash Tanhuma); he acquired sympathizers (Chizkuni); he took his tallit made of blue wool (Rabenu Bahya).
As Hazon’s Marketing and Communications Manager, Hannah guides the messaging and tone of Hazon’s marketing and communications and oversees the successful execution of the overall marketing strategy. Previously, Hannah worked in communications for Hillel International in Washington, DC, for three years. She spent a year of study each at Yeshivat Hadar and the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. Originally from Olney, MD, Hannah earned her B.S. at the University of Maryland in marketing and religious studies.