Those following this series of Torah thoughts may have noticed that I usually post on Friday afternoon before the Sabbath. However, what I have been doing is catching the Torah portion at the end, not the beginning, of its week. Each Torah portion is read in synagogue on Monday, Thursday and Shabbat, and the upcoming Torah portion begins its week as the Shabbat of the past Torah portion draws to a close. Therefore, to give everyone a whole week to think about the portion of the week, I will now write Torah thoughts at the beginning of the week.
This week's Torah portion is Korach (Num.16:1-18:32). It describes a difficult time for the Israelites in the wilderness. In the previous two Torah portions, the children of Israel have been punished for complaining about the manna, and wishing for the food they had eaten in Egypt, and demoralized by the report of the scouts, that the land that God had promised them was inhabited by people too strong to overcome. Now, Korach incites a rebellion against the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Moses challenges the rebels to a standoff, to let God choose the leaders of Israel. God causes Korach and his followers to be swallowed up by the earth, and the earth closes over them.
This is too much for the children of Israel. They now begin to fear the Mishkan, the same Tabernacle that, not so long ago, they eagerly gave their possessions to build. They cry out, "Everyone who so much as ventures near the Lord's Tabernacle must die! Alas, we are doomed to perish!" (Num. 17:28) So God instructs Aaron to tell the people that henceforth only the priests and Levites will bear the guilt of any encroachment upon the sanctuary.
The Israelites in the wilderness experienced God in ways that we do not today. God tries to assuage their fears of the sanctuary by putting the burden on the priests. However, we know that, even now, religion has the potential to frighten people away when all they can see is punishment and retribution. Now, it is up to us, not God, to remove that burden of fear.