Parshat Korach: Power of Community

Community is an essential part of Judaism. Parshat Korach is about the risks of separating oneself from the community, which resonates through today.

Rashi highlights that Korah’s separateness is already expressed in the first verse: “And Korach took…” It does not say what he took; it only lists a few of his followers. Rashi, citing midrash Tanhuma teaches: He purposely took himself out of the community to make machloket (conflict). The story continues with Korah’s claims, refusal to engage in dialogue with Moshe and Aaron and punishment. How surprising it is then that Korah’s “edah” (community) is the source in the Talmud for the requirement to pray in a minyan (quorum) of ten men! (There is also value placed on praying as part of a tzibbur – of men and women). 

The source for minyan in the Talmud is derived from a verbal analogy in Torah. Vayikra states that God should be sanctified “among” Bnei Yisrael. The word among is also used when God instructs Moshe to separate from “among” Korah’s community (edah), as attempts to reason with them were futile. The word edah is also used in the story of the spies, from which the number ten is derived for minyan. So the basis for communal prayer is derived from two groups of great sinners. 

Perhaps this was not only a literary connection, but rather a deeper point expressed by the rabbis. Separating and not engaging with diverse perspectives can lead to isolation and extremism. By deriving minyan from such imperfect models, the Sages encourage openness and inclusiveness within communities. This allows for people of varying religious commitments, or who feel less worthy, to take part in communal prayer. Shabbat Shalom -Karen Miller Jackson

Lech Lecha: From Loneliness to Community

Parshat Lech Lecha contains a message about individuality but also about community. On the one hand, Avraham stands out for his exemplary uniqueness and ability to stand up for what he believes is right, even if he was alone in his non-mainstream ideas. On the other hand, the parsha emphasizes that Avraham does not remain alone, but together with Sarah, builds a community through his commitment to monotheism and lovingkindness. 

Avraham is commanded by God to leave his home and family to set out for an unknown destination. Rambam teaches that before this, Avraham spent many hours and years meditating alone over the world, until he came to know God the Creator of the world at age forty. Rashi interprets the words “Lech Lecha” (go for yourself) as: for your own benefit and your own good. These sources highlight Avraham’s uniqueness but also his likely loneliness at this point in the narrative. Rabbi Soloveitchik characterizes Avraham as feeling “intense loneliness” before entering into the “brit” or covenantal relationship with God and inspiring others to join the “covenantal community.” 

When Avraham and Sarah set out on their journey they also bring along “the souls they had made in Haran.” This odd terminology is understood by the midrash to mean that Abaraham had taught, hosted and converted the men and Sarah, the women. Based on this, the Ha’amek Davar interprets “Lech Lecha” as meaning that even though Avraham was alone in his faith, he and Sarah chose to share their beliefs along the way and greatly influenced and enriched the lives of others. 

Loneliness is an increasing challenge in our world today. Avraham and Sarah remind us of the greatness of community and provide a model for how to build meaningful relationships. Shabbat Shalom