Korach’s revolt and principles of Jewish leadership

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Back in the 1960’s, during the worst times of our nation’s urban crisis, the militants would predict “a long hot summer.”

In today’s portion (at Numbers 16) Moses experiences his “long, hot summer”—–the violent, deadly revolt of Korach, Dathan, Abiram and the 250 chieftains.“

It is Moses’ gravest political failure.

Throughout the wandering in the desert, Moses encounters escalating objections to the style of his leadership.  I would suggest that these problems occurred because Moses fell short of his high standard of humility.

First, there was the mild rebuke by his father-in-law, Jethro.  Jethro saw Moses spend the entire day as the only judge over Israel.

Jethro proposed that Moses set up a hierarchy of courts.

Rabbi Judah of Akko suggests that Jethro sensed that Moses was losing his humility, becoming a pompous leader, who believed that only he, Moses, could solve the people’s problems.

Later, Aaron and Miriam confront Moses in the matter of the Cushite woman.

Jacob Ben Isaac Ashkenazi, author of the Tzeena u-Reenah, suggests that by marrying a foreign woman, Moses showed that he considered himself superior to his own people.  Additionally, Miriam and Aaron may have overheard Moses telling his wife that he was too busy with his important work to have time for her.

Finally, today, there is revolt.

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Rabbi Harvey Fields in ”A Torah Commentary for Our Times“ suggests that Korach and the rebels question the authority of Moses and Aaron to make communal decisions.  Who will decide what is right for the community?   Who will define the law and practice of society? 

Abraham ibn Ezra argued that many people thought Moses acted out of self-interest by assigning duties to the Levites which appear to benefit his own clan. 

Notwithstanding his political problems, Moses remains the model for Jewish leadership.

Rather than arrogance and hubris, Moses demonstrates humility.  Confronted by the accusations of Korach, Moses fell on his face twice, once before Korach and later before God, when God threatened to annihilate the Israelites.

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Dr. Hal M. Lewis, a professor at Spertus College in Chicago, contrasts the Jewish classical view of leadership with secular political models.

For both theological and historical reasons, Judaism has always distrusted human leaders.  Jewish sources recognize the relationship between high office and the abuse of power.  Strict limits were placed on those who held positions of authority, from kings and judges to rabbis and philanthropists.

To prevent leadership abuses, Judaism insists on power sharing.  Jewish communities have been governed by a three part system in which religious, scholarly, and political leaders share responsibility for the welfare of the people. 

Individuals claiming to have all the answers, who insist on aggregating power, are viewed with suspicion and disdain. 

In secular politics, aspiring leaders emphasize their strength and toughness.  They exhibit  a top-down, command-and-control style.  Self-assurance and single-minded determination and bravado are associated with leadership

Jewish sources emphasize humility.  One must recognize his or her limitations regardless of the position.  Only God has absolute authority.  Human leaders, can never be above the law. 

Humility is not a sign of weak leadership.  The Torah and later Jewish sources insist that the most effective of all leaders—Moses—was, at the same time the most humble. 

For Judaism, effective leadership is not about position; it is about behavior and action.

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Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, writes that in a social order in which everyone has equal dignity in the eyes of heaven, a leader does not stand above the people.  He serves the people and he serves God.   Rabbi Sacks refers to this style as "servant leadership.”

How would our world be different, if the Classical Jewish view of leadership were followed universally?

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Jack Strong—a great psychological noir read for a Saturday afternoon

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I just finished Jack Strong by Walter Mosley (Open Road Integrated Media).

This short novel is based in Las Vegas and involves a murder by a man with many personalities.  From page to page, paragraph to paragraph, the protagonist, sometimes known as Jack Strong, shifts from persona to persona in his brain.  His mind shifts genders and the book has some glorious sex scenes.  Moseley writes with a touch of noir and a heavy dose of psychology.  Not too long, and never boring, this book is an excellent way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

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Walter Mosley

Photo by Marcia E. Wilson/WideVision Photography

Click for author’s website

Wyck—a fabled rose garden in the heart of urban Germantown—and why the British troops never got any sleep.

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Today we visited Wyck, a glorious rose garden in the midst of urban Germantown.  Germantown is one of Philadelphia’s oldest neighborhoods. 

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The earliest part of the Wyck house was built in the 1680’s.  William Strickland, who designed the Second Bank of the United States and the Merchant’s Exchange, was architect for an addition to the house.  

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Lafayette visited the house in the 1820’s and a rose bush was planted in his honor.

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During the Revolution, the battle of Germantown was fought nearby.  The Wyck house was used as a hospital for British troops.  The 65 and XH buses roar along Walnut Lane and the 23 bus roars along Germantown Avenue.  The wounded Red Coats never got any sleep.  It serves the British right.  

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At one point, a brewery was operated on the grounds.  The last of the Wycks moved out about 30 years ago, leaving the house and gardens to a trust.  Besides the rose garden, chickens and vegetables are raised on the property. The vegetables are sold every Friday on Germantown Avenue.

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A farm in urban Philadelphia. Sugar snap peas, carrots, thyme and sage—and an abandoned strawberry.

Today, we bought sugar snap peas, carrots, thyme and sage at the Wyck Farmers Market, 6026 Germantown Avenue, in Philadelphia.  

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The Farmers Market sells produce grown in the garden of the Wyck House, deep in urban Philadelphia.  The Farmers Market is open on Fridays from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. until November.  

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Our hosts were Katie (who did not go to Cal) and Maggie (who never was at the Fairlane Grille in Erdenheim).  

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As we were leaving, several people came to the stand asking for strawberries.  Strawberries were sold out, due to a small crop influenced by the weather.  As we walked up Germantown Avenue, we spotted a strawberry on the ground.  Since it was abandoned, we ethically retrieved it and took it home.  It was wonderful.

“Assimilated Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, 1940-1943”: a study in social class

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Katarzyna Person (above), a researcher at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, has made a valuable contribution to understanding the tragedy of the Jews who were forced to live in the Warsaw Ghetto.  

Based on her doctoral research conducted at Royal Holloway, University of London, Person reports on the relationship between the status of the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto and their previous assimilation into Polish culture.

Person studied interviews of survivors, diaries, pamphlets and articles in the Ghetto press,  She explains that assimilated Jews, academics, and professionals were placed into leading roles in the Judenrat (the Jewish civil authority appointed by the Nazis to carry out Nazi orders in the administration of the Ghetto).  Often these appointees had little qualifications for their jobs, but were placed as a result of their connections in the community.  The Jewish police were similarly staffed.  Along with these jobs came protection from deportation to concentration camps.

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Person details the immense corruption within the Ghetto, the rich cultural life of theater, music, and cabarets, and the political organization of the armed resistance.  She notes the limited support which the Ghetto armed resistance received from the Polish underground.

Though the assimilated Jews lived better than most residents of the Ghetto, Person quotes Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg who wrote, “even the nicest apartment in a ghetto was still a ghetto apartment, and the armband made of silk was still an emblem of subjugation."  

Assimilated Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, 1940-1943 is published by Syacuse University Press.