Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Note: The just concluded series on the nusach hatefila consists of the seven preceding posts. The first in the series is designated Form and Content; the last, The Paradigmatically Fleeting Request.


In Korach, people gange up on Moshe and Aharon and accuse them of illegitimately appropriating high office for themselves, whereupon they are eradicated from the face of the earth. Then it says that Hashem tells Moshe to do such-and-such in order to demonstrate plainly that the tribe of Levi has been designated as holder of high office, and that to it exclusively has performing the associated duties been assigned. No longer will there be room to question it.

I asked: Didn’t taking this step supply the people who were obliterated with a (posthumous) defense? Didn’t it imply that, until the commanded demonstration would be carried out, there had, in fact, been a basis for thinking that the Levite’s didn’t legitimately hold office? Didn’t it suggest that the actions of those who ganged up defiantly on Moshe and Aharon may have been excusable, after all, and that these people were not wholly culpable? Didn’t it, then, somehow legitimate their actions? After all, they hadn’t had the benefit of the demonstration that was first now going to be performed.

I thought to answer and to explain that no: it didn’t provide a retroactive defense of these people. The situation had changed. The before and the after were not the same. In the original situation, it had been inexcusably wrong to commit such an atrocity. Moshe had been the undeniable leader and teacher: he rightfully commanded the people’s trust. There had been every reason to abide by his dictate in this matter. Consequently, the people who committed the offense were held to account: they were deemed culpable, punished, and rightfully destroyed. The state of the world at that time called forth this higher level of conscience.

However, once they had committed their act of rebelliousness (and the consequences ensued), the situation had changed. It was inevitable that it should because, after all, actions affect the world. Offenses and wrongdoings have their impact; they leave traces behind them; and these traces are transformative. As a result, the world had undergone a spiritual metamorphosis. The hitherto unthinkable had henceforth become (more) thinkable: the world had deteriorated. From this point onward, people could no longer be held culpable for this particular offense, without first having been shown a palpable demonstration that to the tribe of Levi did higher office veritably belong.

This is what I thought to say.

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