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July 4, 2016 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Korah

In this week’s portion, Korah and various accomplices challenge Moses’s leadership, and Moses challenges them to a sacrifice-off: Korah’s supporters would burn incense in front of the Tent of Meeting (Numbers 16:17) and God’s reaction would determine the merit of their complaints.  A fire from God consumes them (whatever that means) 16:35)

After that, God tells Moses to take the incense-burning tools of Korah’s supporters and to make them an overlay for the Tent altar.  Why should something used in a mistaken cause be treated as holy?

Arama explains that this would remind Israel of the failure of the rebellion, which in turn would “demonstrate that only priests could offer incense without penalty.”  He writes that this policy illustrates a broader point: “nothing is as beloved as the weapon once owned by a defeated enemy, which now reminds the victor of his triumph.”

Which in turn reminds me of one of my most cherished memories of my father, who was born in Berlin, hid there during WW 2, and did not move to the US until 1949.  In the late 1990s (when I lived in Buffalo) he and my mother visited Toronto.  We met there, and I noticed that Triumph of the Will was playing.  I asked my father if he was interested in seeing it, and somewhat to my surprise he was.  (He was 12 when it was made).  The closing theme to the movie was the Horst Wessel song, the Nazi national anthem; he hummed along like it was perfectly normal to do so.  At the time I didn’t really think about whether this made sense.  But after reading Arama I understand- that song was, so to speak, the enemy’s weapon.  Humming it must have reminded by father of his triumph in surviving.

Similarly, this idea might explain why people sometimes like to use ethnic slurs directed against them (e.g. black entertainers using a certain word beginning with N).

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