Derech Tzofeh (“The Path of the Scout”) offers commentaries on Judaism from all diverse Jewish Scouting sources to incorporate the values inspired by the Torah, Talmud and Mishnah and relate them to the Scouting program.
We encourage publishing commentaries on this site, from respected rabbinical authorities to individual Jewish Scouts. The National Jewish Committee on Scouting recognizes all branches of Judaism – Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist – and considers each of equal importance and worthy of inclusion.
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June 15, 2018 – Korach
The founder of the Order of the Arrow, Dr. E. Urner Goodman, used to say that leaders could either lead up or down. In parsha Korach this week, we read about leaders who led down – in more ways than one.
Korach is a member of one of the most distinguished families among the Children of Israel. He is a member of the tribe of Levi, and the cousin of Moses, Aaron and Miriam. Together with three members of the tribe of Reuben – Datan, Aviram and On – he begins complaining about the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Their complaint is that Moses and Aaron have taken on too much leadership. Korach also complains Aaron’s family should not be priests. He recruits 250 “men of renown” who are not Levites to join him.
Korach plays on the people’s sadness that they will not be allowed to enter Canaan because they believed the false report of the ten Meraglim (spies) who said the Canaanites were giants and thus the Israelites would not be able to conquer the land. Not only does he stir up discontent, he lies by complaining that Moses has led the people away from Egypt, calling it “a land flowing with milk and honey” – he describes the land where they were enslaved by using the same words that God uses to describe the Land of Israel!
Then Moses gives the rebels a challenge. Tomorrow they are to each bring a fire pan with incense on it to the Tent of Meeting. Moses and Aaron will do the same.
It is a dramatic scene the next day. All the people (called the “assembly”) come and the Shechinah (the cloud that represents God’s glory) appears. God tells Moses and Aaron to stand aside and watch as all the people are destroyed. Once again, Moses intervenes on behalf of the people, asking “shall one man sin, and You be angry with the entire assembly?” God tells Moses to have the people move away from the tents of Korach, Dathan and Aviram. (On had left the rebellion, at the urging of his wise wife.) God then causes a pit to open in the ground, and it swallows Korach, Dathan and Aviram and their families. The 250 men of renown who followed Korach and brought pans of incense are consumed by fire.
Physically, Korach led his followers down to the inner reaches of the Earth. But he led them down spiritually as well. Many of our rabbis say Korach was jealous that although he was a Levi, he did not have an important position. The rabbis also explain Korach’s followers from the tribe of Reuben were jealous because Reuben’s importance as the firstborn had been lost to the tribe of Levi, which exhibited leadership by not worshipping idols in Egypt or the Golden Calf. Had Korach, Dathan, Aviram and On been true leaders, they would have only been concerned with the welfare of those they led instead of their own status.
In the midst of rebellion led by Korach, the bad leader, we see true leadership exemplified by Moses. Though many questioned his authority, Moses helped the people by imploring God not to punish anyone but those causing the trouble. In the face of someone bringing the people down, Moses led upward.
June 1, 2018 – Parsha Behaalotecha
In this week’s parsha, Behaalotecha, we learn of many separations.
God commands Moses to light the Menorah, which has seven lamps. Doing so creates a separation between the light and darkness, as the Torah says, “The seven lamps shall cast light on the Menorah.”
Then God commands Moses to separate the Levites from the rest of the Children of Israel. This separation is intended to purify the Levites and recognize their position as servants of God and the people in the Mishkan (Tabernacle).
Another separation is discussed when Moses’s father-in-law, Jethro, tells Moses he intends to leave the Israelites and return to his own land. Moses urges Jethro to stay. Moses is concerned that this separation will mean the loss of someone who knows the Wilderness and has been a guide to the Israelites and an advisor to Moses.
The people separate themselves from God’s gifts by complaining that they are tired of the food in the Wilderness. God has given them manna which appears every morning. The people say they miss the fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic they had in Egypt. They complain, “Our life is parched, there is nothing.” Not only do the people separate themselves from God’s gift of the manna, they also separate themselves from God’s gift of spirituality when they say they miss the spiritual wilderness of Egypt.
Moses is frustrated by the constant complaining of the Israelites and asks God why he deserves such evil to be done to him? God’s response is to suggest that Moses get help by taking 70 men from the elders of Israel to be his advisors – another separation.
The separation that has the most meaning to me is the one brought to light by people who were not able to participate in the commandments of eating the Korban Pesach (Passover offering) because they were contaminated by contact with a dead body. They asked “Why should we be diminished by not offering the Korban Pesach?” These people understand the gifts that God has given them and their value. They understand that when they are not able to participate in the mitzvot they are diminished spiritually.
We should think about whether there are times we separate ourselves from our friends, our family, or the Torah, when we do not appreciate the wonderful gifts we have in the people we love and the mitzvot we have been given. Are our separations for good, like that of the Levites who separated themselves to serve the people and God, or are they selfish like those who complained about the manna and longed for the food of Egypt?
May 25, 2018 – Naso
Howdy! I write to you from Dallas, Texas and the national annual meeting of the Boy Scouts of America. This week the National Jewish Committee on Scouting has been meeting, working to bring Scouting to more Jewish youth. You can help by inviting a friend to join you in the fun and adventure of Scouts!
Parsha Naso begins this week with the continuation of the counting of the Tribe of Levi, which has three families – Kohath, Gershon and Merari. In last week’s parasha, the family of Kohath was counted. They had the honor of carrying the Holy Ark during our travels in the Wildnerness.
In this week’s parasha, the other families are counted. The second sentence of the parasha is God’s instruction to Moses, “Take a census of the sons of Gershon, as well, according to their fathers’ household, according to their families.” The men of Gershon carried the covering of the MIshkan (Tabernacle) and the screen and hangings that surrounded the Mishkan.
The great Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986) explained the words “as well” ties this count of the Gershonites to the prior count of the Kohathites. This means the work of the Gershonites in carrying the skins and fabrics which covered and surrounded the Mishkan is just as important as the work of the Kohathites in carrying the Ark. Every task related to moving the Mishkan was equally important.
In the same way, the role of each of us in living lives of Torah is important. Even if I am not a Torah scholar, my studies are important because they increase the knowledge of Torah. My modest contributions to my synagogue are still important, even though they are smaller than the gifts of other people. Though I cannot spend an entire day helping with a community service project, without my efforts it will not be completed even with the work of people who put in several days.
The Talmudic sage Rabbi Tarfon said, “You are not required to complete the task, but you may not withdraw from it.” (Pirke Avot [Ethics of the Fathers] 2:21)
Or, as we promise in the Scout Oath, “to do my best”.
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