Custom Made Commandments
In almost every portion, there are several topics, or commandments, mentioned. Although it may not appear to be so, each of these topics or commandments is intrinsically connected, and they are all under the umbrella of the main theme of the portion.
This week, we have the famous story of Korach. Korach was a cousin of Moshe. It bothered him that Moshe was the leader of the Jewish nation. Korach started a rebellion. He complained that the entire nation is holy; why do we need a leader? He asked Moshe questions such as: "in a room filled with holy books, does one need a mezuza" (a scroll containing the "shema" which hangs on doorposts of Jewish homes)? When Moshe replied in the affirmative, Korach ridiculed him, claiming that if the words which the mezuza contains are already hanging in the room, why must one re-hang them on the doorpost?
This is the same complaint mentioned before - that if the whole nation is holy, why do we need a leader?
Some of the other commandments in this portion are that a priest cannot do the work of a levite or vice versa, a non-kohein (priest) may not do any work in the Temple, and that a first born child must be redeemed. There is also extensive mention of the laws of gifts for the kohanim and levites, which came from sacrificial offerings and agricultural tithes.
What do all these commandments have in common? They are all specific to one group. Many of the commandments of the Torah are specific to one group or another. There are specific commandments for men, women, kings, priests and levites. This speaks to the fact that every single Jew has a unique role.
Korach, because of his ego, was unable to grasp this idea. He felt that everyone should be equal. What he did not understand was that everyone is equal in importance in the eyes of G-d. After all that G-d had done for the Jewish people, Korach should have had trust in Him, and known that everything He does is for our good.
We find a similar problem in the pluralistic movements today. Since it is no longer politically correct for people to have different types of abilities, everyone must act the same. Where it was once seen as a point of pride that a woman became responsible for the commandments at younger age (12) than a man (13) because of her greater maturity, now everyone celebrates his/her bar/bat mitzva at the age of 13.
To deny our unique aspects is to deny our souls and our humanity. We should embrace our differences, and we should strive to do the commandments that are incumbent upon us as individuals.
Rabbi Jay Spero is the rabbi of the Saranac Synagogue in Buffalo.