Sunday, July 10, 2016

At Touro July 8, 2016 A Rite of Passage and a Grammar Lesson

 Friends from Buenos Ares posing
in front of the bookcase with the trick drawers.
Today was unusual for a July day. It was only 69 degrees in Newport. The fans and congregants at Touro hummed softly, a little traffic noise entered through the open windows, and the sound of seagulls was in the air. 

Avi, the son of Rabbi Loel and Patty Weiss, was among the visitors. Behind the bimah, opposite the door, a long bookcase holds siddurim and chumashim. Drawers at each end contain talleisim.  But they are trick drawers. Pulled out more than halfway, the drawer pops out and falls on the floor. Sure enough, when Avi pulled out a drawer to get a tallis, down went the drawer. He spent some frustrating moments trying to get it back in. But getting the genii in the bottle is much harder than taking it out. After Avi gave up someone with more experience took over. His dad Loel Weiss deftly inserted the drawer. No doubt Rabbi Weiss had already gone through this rite of passage! Et ainsi la perturbation de la force a été résolue. (Hint: that was for Star Wars fans.)

Today we read Parsha Korach, which includes the story of Korach’s complaints about Moses and Aaron, and their response. For neither the first nor the last time, Moses had trouble getting the genii back in the bottle, and consulted a higher authority.  

After greeting visitors and locals, Rabbi Marc Mandel turned to the parsha. He started with an entirely different subject, dikduk (grammar)! He recalled being taught grammar in high school, including how to diagram a sentence.  Had any of congregants gone through the same experience? Through the fog of memory, several of us recalled our grammar lessons. Subject, predicate, object. According to, “The subject is the "who" or "what" of the sentence, the predicate is the verb, and the object is any noun or concept that is part of the action of the subject.”  

The Rabbi told us Korach was a smart person, and even had some good arguments! But the way he went about things was not so good. 

The parsha starts with Numbers 16:1: “Now Korach, son of Izhar son of Kohath son of Levi,and Dathan and Abiram sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth, descendants of Reuben took.”  As Rashi observed, there is no object in the sentence. So what did they take? They took themselves. And that’s the problem! Their concern was for themselves, particularly their status and prerogatives.  On the surface, Korach was rebelling against Moses, but his real target was the almighty. Korach's punishment was being swallowed by the earth. Every effort was made to allow his followers to separate themselves and avoid divine retribution.  

The haftarah reading was Samuel 11:14 - 12:22. The prophet Samuel, unlike his ancestor Korach, brought people together. Samuel asked for a thunderstorm in the dry season when he brought Israel together to install Saul as king, and so it was. What a gentle miracle, compared to Korach’s dramatic end! Zal Newman ably recited the Haftarah. His 90 year old voice was stronger than many others in the congregation!  I overheard a couple of 80 somethings wondering if their voices would be as strong as Zal’s if they attained his age.

Referring to the divisiveness in our country,  the Rabbi urged us to follow the example of Samuel and work for the greater good by bridging differences and bringing people together.

The Kiddish was sponsored by Susan Horgan in honor of her dad, Mike Josephson. Rabbi Mandel pointed out that Mike works for the greater good by being a regular on Saturday mornings and helping insure that there is a minyan.
Thanks to proofreader Janet Green Zucker

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