July 1, 2016
Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon
Korach chronicles the greatest rebellion in the entire Torah, the palace revolt of the Levite Korach and his 400 followers against the divinely ordained leadership of his fellow Levites, Moses and Aaron. As so often seems to be the case, we Jews are our own worst enemies. The result of this insurrection is disastrous, at least for the rebels. The earth opens and Korach and all of his misguided followers are swallowed up, never to be heard from again.
By tradition, the rebellion of Korach is the absolute worst revolt of its sort in Jewish history. But this is hardly the first rebellion of the Israelites against Moses’ leadership, and it is certainly also not the last. In a couple of weeks the Torah portion of Pinchas will conclude yet another episode of an insider revolution, that one solved by the point of a spear. And the rebellions against Moses and God have been pretty continuous: the criticism on the very shore of the Red Sea, the Golden Calf episode, the intense unhappiness of the Children of Israel throughout their peregrinations in the desert right up to last week’s story of the failed spies in Shlach L’cha. Our ancestors had a very bad habit of constantly being dissatisfied and continuously trying to overthrow the proper order of things. Whoever was in charge always got the brunt of the criticism and the lion’s share of the hostility.
Read more: Bald Truths: How Rebellion Teaches us About Leadership - Rabbi Cohon's Sermon on Korach 5776
June 24, 2016
Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon
The Chabad House at Harvard challenges the Harvard University oarsmen to a rowing contest. but soon discovers that the Harvard crew is recording practice times that are twice as fast as their own. So the Chabad captain sends a spy across to Harvard to find out why and how they row so fast. A few hours later the spy returns.
“Nuh,” says the Chabad captain, “tell us!”
“Well,” says the spy, “They do everything the opposite of us.”
“Explain,” says the captain.
“It's simple,” says the spy, “They've got eight men rowing and one man shouting!”
This little joke has relevance for this week’s Torah portion of Shelach Lecha, for two reasons. For the question of what makes for a good spy, and just where you find the professional qualities necessary for doing espionage work are central to our parshah, and can teach us some important things. And the need for more people to row, and fewer to shout, is always important in the Jewish circles…
I’m sure that there are all kinds of tests available today for determining who makes a good subject for intelligence work and who just can’t pull it off. In spite of the oft-repeated slander that the definition of an oxymoron is military intelligence, no doubt both armed services and civilian agencies have lots of ways of figuring out who is good at this stuff and who isn’t.
Read more: The Right Kind of Spies - Rabbi Cohon's Sermon on Shlach Lecha 5776