Tuesday, June 17, 2014

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Tyler Liffmann on Korah

Shabbat Shalom!

My portion tells the story of the great rebellion against Moses that took place in the wilderness.  Most of the people we read about are fairly well known, including Korach, the ring leader.

But there’s one person mentioned here who may have been the most important of all – but we barely know anything about him.  I’d like to talk about him today, and about his wife, too, who is never mentioned in the Torah at all.

The Torah names four people who were leaders in the rebellion: Korah, Datan and Aviram – who are famous – and then a guy named On.  He is mentioned once and then we never hear about On again. We can only assume that somehow he was able to separate himself from the bad people before things got too bad.  That must have taken an amazing amount of selfconfidence, an ability to know the difference between right and wrong and – even more, an ability to stand up to peer pressure.

I can relate to On.  I’ve always had a good deal of self confidence and  I’ve never backed down from a challenge, whether it be on the ski slope, the swimming pool – or even in Hebrew School. I couldn’t wait to begin my bat mitzvah lessons. 

So what’s the key to self-confidence?  Believing in your self is important.  And it also helps having older siblings – there aren’t too many things teenagers deal with that I haven’t already heard a whole lot about.

I’ve learned how important it is to ask questions and think for myself and not just go along with the crowd.

There’s something else about On that I should mention.    According to a legend, it was his wife, who is never mentioned in the Torah itself, who saved him.  On was coming home from the protest rally and his wife talked with him about the dangers of following Korach.  What good would it do if he followed such an unstable guy?    So she got him away from the danger in the nick of time. 

This reminds me of a story about my family.  My great grandmother (whom I’m named after) convinced my great grandfather that they needed to leave Germany with their son just as the Nazis were starting to make life harder for Jews.  My great grandfather had already had his business taken away by the Nazis, and She could see the danger increasing – so she got her family out of Germany and to England in 1938 and then eventually to the US.  This took a lot of courage and self-confidence to leave everything she had and start a new life.

I thought about this when I was at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem just a couple of months ago.  I was very moved by the exhibit and for many years I have been very interested in the Holocaust.  I know that were it not for my great grandmother’s wisdom and self-confidence, I never would have been born.  She was like On’s wife – a person who we never really talk about, but someone who was very important because she was so wise and decisive and had the self confidence to go against the crowd.
  For my mitzvah project, for the past five months I’ve been writing letters weekly and sending care packages monthly to a soldier in Afghanistan.  I found him through adoptaplatoon.com.  His name is Brendan.  When you speak about people with the self-confidence to stand up for what is right, these soldiers are at the top of the list.

       So I’ve learned in so many ways how and why we need to have self-confindence. I’ve learned it from my family and even from the Torah. 

       As the ancient sage Hillel said:  "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?"

       It’s important to be able to stand up for yourself, and also to take a stand against people who are leading others in the wrong direction. 

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