In our Parsha we learn that Korah and his followers met an unnatural death because they defied God. The nature of how they defied God was by challenging the authority of Moshe and Aharon. In the Talmud, we learn that Reish Lakish (the bandit turned rabbinic scholar) learned the mitzvah of visiting the sick from this story. The rationale is hard to follow but the mitzvah of visiting the sick, Bikur Cholim, is well established as an important mitzvah (we also learn from the story of God visiting Abraham after his circumcision).
The mitzvah also extends to people of all ethnic and religious groups (Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh De‘ah 335:1). The purpose of doing so is to alleviate suffering, evident from the rabbinic adage (in the midrash) that a visitor relieves the ill person of one-sixtieth of his/her suffering (Leviticus Rabba 34).
It has been hard for us to fully do this mitzvah of late due to COVID 19. We pray that we will be able to perform this mitzvah safely, in person, in the not too distant future. Until then Zoom/Skype and Google Meet will have to do.
Next Friday Night Live with Student Participation Our next virtual FNL is planned for July 10, 2020, @ 6:30 PM Join us by video: meet.google.com/ajj-xdsy-ysn
In this week’s Parsha Sh’lach we have the story of the Mekoshesh Etzim (wood collector) on Shabbat.
And the Children of Israel were in the desert, and they found a man who collected wood on the Shabbat day. And those who found him collecting wood bought him [close] to Moshe and to Aharon and to all the congregation. And they placed him in jail because it was not explained what should be done to him.” (Numbers 15:32-34).
As it turns out what should be done with him was to stone him to death. Some commentators say that the fact that he deserved the death penalty was indisputable, rather what they were unsure about was the form of death he deserved. Many commentators speculate about the details of this story and the justification for the death penalty in this case. Despite some interesting takes on it such as that it was so harsh because it was a deliberate public act of defiance of God very soon after being given the commandments, it still comes off as barbaric to the modern mind.
The tension between our moral code and parts of the Torah, which seem barbaric or immoral, is a critical one for those who take the Torah, and indeed Judaism seriously. Texts and stories like the Mekoshesh Etzim challenge us to consider how much of the historical context we should take into account when learning Torah.
It brings to mind an interesting quote of R. Kook “Fear of God must not over-ride a human being’s sense of natural morality (Orot HaKodesh 3, Introduction [#11], p. 27). What exactly Rav Kook meant by “natural morality” is not entirely clear but the idea that our morality can have more authoritative than the plain meaning of a Torah text is fascinating.
This question of ancient morality vs modern morality plays out in our lives all the time. Consciously or otherwise we are constantly rationalizing and integrating the two. It is particularly true these days with the renewed focus on inequality and on which leaders from recent history are worth celebrating and which should be condemned.
Please join us tonight at 6:30 PM for our Live-Stream Kabbalat Shabbat services. meet.google.com/ajj-xdsy-ysn