This week’s parshah is about un-truth and non-reconciliation; it is about how claims for justice can mask projections of anger and lust for power, with disastrous results. It reminds us of what we need to be and need to do.
We may begin with points of commonality, while knowing no two stories are the same, and there is much to learn. In the spirit of reconciliation, we acknowledge with deep sadness the painful history of the Indigenous peoples of Canada. We turn our school logo orange as a gesture of awareness. As Jews, we seek to stand next to you; we hold in our hearts the not-long distant memory of standing at the precipice of a lost culture, lost identity, lost language, lost children, lost wisdom, desecration of our holy places. We pray with you and for you, and for all of us—for healing, knowledge, and peace.
In parshat Korach, a group of rebels—led by a person named Korach—conspire to overturn the leadership of Moshe and Aaron. Their facile claim: all people are equally holy. Ergo, Moshe and Aaron have no claim to leadership. Korach’s primary weapon: to attack the character of Moshe, projecting their own lust for power onto the very leader who, through great fortitude of character and self-sacrifice, brought them out of Mitzrayyim.
Parshat Korach may as well be the month of May, 2021. Facile claims and incendiary allegations are the daily fare of today’s social media. Accusations are recklessly tossed about; character assassination of individuals and entire groups of people masquerade as coherent arguments and outraged solidarity.
The past few weeks have had their share of deep tsuris. We weep at the death and suffering of Palestinians and Israelis. We weep at the rise in ugly anti-Semitism. We weep at the murderous, targeted attack of a Muslim family in London, Ontario, who were out for a Sunday walk. We weep at the latest revelation of genocide perpetrated against the Indigenous peoples of the land we call home. All of these tragedies make our heads spin and our hearts break.
It would make sense to lash out, accuse, look for someone to blame. But such responses only deepen the rut. Racism itself is based on that very impulse to lift oneself up by pushing someone else down. It has no basis, except self-aggrandizement. Rabbi Heschel called racism “the maximum hatred for the minimum of reason.” It is a hatred that spirals downward into a bottomless pit. The Torah speaks in metaphors: for their baseless insurrection “the earth opened up its mouth and swallowed” Korach and his followers.
If we really want reconciliation, if we really want peace, if we really want tikkun olam, we must seek to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. I am incredibly proud of our alumnus Jacob Van Bergh, who together with his high-school classmates initiated a letter-writing campaign on behalf of the oppressed Uhyger Muslim community in China. I am inspired by the work of Yad Beyad school in Israel, which brings Jewish and Arab Israelis together to learn. I am inspired by those who acknowledge the ongoing mistreatment of Indigenous peoples, and are asking: what can we do? I am inspired by members of The Toronto Heschel School community who dedicated a beautiful sunny day last Sunday to join together in performing mitzvot of tikkun, tzedakah, and care for the earth.
These days, I aspire to align my energy, heart, and commitment with those who want to build bridges, ask questions, and be curious about the decisions and stories of others. To stop shouting, accusing, projecting, and tearing down; seek to listen, learn, build, and heal. It won’t be easy, but we need to start.