Friday, June 19, 2015

Korach 5775, June 2015; Limits and Achievements

There's a well known old joke about a man who goes to a rabbi and demands, "Rabbi, I'll donate $1,000,000 to your synagogue if you'll make me a Kohen." The rabbi explains he can't do that. They argue back and forth. Finally the rabbi asks, in frustration, "Look, sir, why is it so important to you out of everything that I could do to teach you about your Jewish heritage that I make you a Kohen, anyway?" The man replies, "Well, my father was a Kohen, his father was a Kohen…"

It's actually a historically derivative joke. We're told that a non-Jew came to Shammai, requested that he be made a Jew, and demanded that he also be made Kohen Gadol. Shammai chased him off. The man went to Hillel and he accepted him as a student. Shammai went to Hillel and asked how he could possibly accept the man with the conditions he set, and Hillel explained that the man would begin at the very beginning of learning Torah, and as he went on he would develop understanding that G-d has set the conditions of the world and that one who is a convert simply cannot be Kohen Gadol by the nature of things.
They're all in the same group, within a couple of years of
each others' ages. But the smallest just can't reach what the
tallest can sometimes, and she's not going to win a race
against her. That's simple reality. They're still all great friends.
In this week's parsha, Korach, a great, wealthy, powerful, imposing leader among the Jewish people, demands to be made a Kohen rather than a Levi as his birth properly provided. No argument could deflect his compulsion to be other than what he was. Moshe spoke to him gently, reminding him that just as G-d had made night and day and they were separate and not equivalent or interchangeable, so the various positions of people by birth within the Jewish nation are each necessary, valuable, but not alterable (Bamidbar Rabbah, Rashi).

There were many possible good, holy reasons for the desire to be a Kohen: the opportunity to offer korbanos directly to G-d, to perform holy service, to lead the Jewish people.  However, unlike among the other nations in which there were many temples and anyone could become servants or priests within those temples, G-d had directly designated the Kohanim as his priests and the Leviyim as their servants (Bamidbar Rabbah).

We do all have limitations. Some of us are only ever going to be so intelligent, intellectual, wealthy, handsome. We may never have the opportunity for the learning we want. We may not be the person we wish we were.
He has significant disabilities. But he can cook
great steak for dinner and hopes to become a
world famous chef someday with his own restaurant.
He accepts he has certain limitations but still has
plans to accomplish all that's within his possibilities.
Yet there are some things we can change, and some we just cannot. When things are truly beyond our ability to alter, to affect, we must accept them and remember that everything G-d does is for the best. If we have a disability of any kind and it keeps us from performing duties or embracing opportunities we otherwise might have had open to us, there is a reason and it is not a reason we can alter intellectually or through our own devices. At the same time, we are required to do everything we can within our own abilities to perform mitzvahs, to achieve tikkun olam, to bring peace to the world. We must be all we can be, yet reconcile ourselves to being only that tiny sliver of creation which we are within G-d's complete creation. It's a very hard concept to intellectualize and to get right yet it is the key to learning who we really are and what our job in the world might be.

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