We don’t have to pay attention too closely to hear messages from people telling us things that we do not want to hear. These messages originate from varied communication methods we access in the public domain and from the people with whom we work, live and love. The messages relate to all kinds of matters: what we put on or in our bodies to what we put through and in our minds. The packaging of these messages can be harsh, loving or somewhere in between. Because these kinds of messages do not feel good, our first defense is to deflect, deny or destroy them by whatever means we have at our disposal. And yet, even though these messages may be unasked for, unexpected, unrefined and even hurtful … some of them, maybe even just a few might actually contain something of value.
In Torah this week Moses and the Israelites receive a decidedly unfriendly message. In the portion that bears his name, Korach (with some of the Israelites firmly behind him), stands up to threaten the authority of Moses and the Levites. Korach and his followers joined together and confronted Moses: “You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and the Eternal One is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the community of the Eternal One?” (Numbers 16:3) In the account that follows in the Torah (and in the generations of commentary, as well) Korach and his followers are taken to task for their arrogance and ambition. Korach’s rebellion ends as he confronts Moses before the entire community in a high-noon-esque showdown … and he and his band are swallowed up by the earth.
It does not seem that Moses or God had any intention to listen to their claim that the entire community should enjoy access to divinity and the holiness that follows such access. And while the form and presentation of the message may have been suspect, the actual message seems downright, uh … Jewish. At least to my contemporary Jewish ears. Despite their dramatic reaction and violent rejection of Korach, it seems that the core of Korach’s idea has some staying power. How many of us – if reading Korach’s statement completely out of context – would disagree or even reject its meaning? And yet, the people who delivered that message – one that Moses and the Levites did not want to hear – were deflected, denied and summarily destroyed.
I would not suggest every message we hear has the same amount of accuracy or truth. I would suggest that there is probably a significant amount of truth that we reject out of hand because we are not open to hearing it. It may be the messenger or the way that message is delivered that turns us off … that turns on the mechanisms of deflection, denial and destruction. Whatever it is, we allow that kernel of truth to be swallowed up so that it is out of sight and out of mind – just like Korach. And so, we may miss out on important truths — truths that help us grow as individuals or ones that help us to understand the people who bring us these truths and in turn strengthen our relationships and our communities.
There is a Korach out there who will soon confront and challenge you … pay attention and listen before you deflect, deny and allow him and his message to be swallowed up.