Whenever I read this week’s Torah portion about the Korach rebellion against Moses in the desert, I am reminded of the two slips of paper that our tradition teaches we should carry in our pockets. One says, “I am but dust and ashes.” The other says, “The world was created for me.”
They are seemingly contradictory. But they are not meant to be read simultaneously. We are to turn to the one when we feel overly important, and the other when we feel overly humble.
They are reminders of the need for balance. Balance in our perception of ourselves, and balance in our relationships with others.
This week’s Torah portion delves into imbalance. Korach and his followers believed in their own importance. They used God’s own words against Moses, quoting God’s assertion that we are all a community of priests. But the argument didn’t hold up, because Korach wanted to take over Moses’ role as the community’s leader. That’s a different job entirely.
Imbalance has arisen in our world today, because of the conservative supermajority on the Supreme Court, the six justices who have decided that prayer at school events is permitted and abortion is not, at least not under federal law. I believe that like Korach, they have misinterpreted their role in the community. The members of the court aren’t arbitrators of religion, aren’t priests of any kind. They are civil servants whose job is to serve the entire nation.
But these decisions are based in Christian ideology. The justices were responding to a Christian high school coach’s desire to pray on a football field after a game. Had he been Jewish, Muslim, or Hindu, I imagine that the result of their decision would be quite different. But their view is a Christian one, and from that perspective, Christian prayer is that of the majority and therefore acceptable.
On more occasions than I can remember, I have been in a room when someone said a prayer that seemed relatively innocuous until the ending; “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” I sometimes try to make myself believe that it is just one name for the Universal God and it shouldn’t bother me. But I know that this particular name has been used as a weapon and I cannot bring myself to say “amen” afterwards.
The abortion issue is even clearer. Christians posit that life begins at conception. Jews posit that life begins when a person takes their first breath. This is based on Genesis 2:7 which states, “God formed the human of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the human became a living soul.” But the Court has not taken into account a Jewish woman’s right to live by the tenets of her religion and therefore have an abortion if she needs to.
These are difficult times to be a non-Christian in America. I think that most Christians in America forget that so many of us are not. But they are mistaken.
A Pew study in 2019 found that 65% of American adults described themselves as Christians and some 9% identified as adherents of other religions. The religiously unaffiliated, including atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular” was 26%.
In the end, we are all ruled by the law of the land, which in these particular cases is decided by the Supreme Court. But these nine men and women are not all powerful. There are other avenues, because there are two other branches of our government.
What is our role in all this? We can donate to causes that we support, we can contact politicians and state our opinions, we can write to the newspaper and post on social media. We can march, or we can stay home, or we can even run for office.
As much as I want to be an advocate for what I believe are basic human rights, among them the right to freely exercise my religion but not foist it on anyone else, I honestly don’t know how to make a difference. Nevertheless I will keep trying and keep advocating, and I will remember that I am but dust and ashes, and that the world was made for me. And that there can be no peace without justice.
And I will remember something else too: That I am a member of an extraordinary community of people with different perspectives and beliefs, but who nevertheless band together for the common good. May we be blessed to continue to do so.