This week’s parasha focuses on the rebellion of Korach. Korach’s attempt to take power from Moses rests on what at first appears to be an appeal to equality and democracy. “All the community is holy, all of them, and the Lord is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourself above the Lord’s congregation?”
If all of Israel is equal, why should Moses have more authority than others? The problem with Korach’s argument is that to say all are equal in the eyes of G-d, is not to say we are all the same in our abilities before G-d.
Judaism encourages us to acknowledge diversity in ability and skills at the same time we celebrate our equality before the Lord. In working with unique individuals for more than thirty years, I have been blessed to experience the diversity of equality before G-d and to acknowledge the unique abilities of many people.
Praying in sign language, dealing with physical, intellectual and emotional challenges does not ignore uniqueness for the false value of sameness. We are not the same, but, we are equal. Honesty allows each person to forge their own path toward equality of experience without pretending that to be equal is to be the same. Moses possessed skills suited for leadership. Betzalel was better suited as an artist and craftsman. Miriam’s empathy to the needs of the people allowed her to know when to lead them in song and where to lead them to life giving waters.
Korach’s words sound empowering, but in fact, by denying unique differences, his words are in fact, much more limiting. If changes in modes of participation are ignored for the sake of “sameness,” we as a community deny individuals the right to experience equality in many different ways.
The point of my position is that for us all to pray, do mitzvoth, and to live as a Jew, we must allow for varying modalities to achieve equality, without requiring sameness for all Jews. We each approach Judaism in ways suited to our abilities, skills and physical realities. Korach’s hidden call, for, sameness, in fact diminishes the equality of difference. Let us pray that we always acknowledge the wonder of uniqueness and that we are not fooled into the trap of sameness.
I want to give thanks and credit to Rabbi Bradlley Shavit Artson for introducing me to the difference between equality and sameness.
Rabbi Daniel T. Grossman has led Adath Israel Congregation in Lawrenceville, New Jersey for 25 years. He is a graduate of Temple University, Hebrew University, Mirkaz HaRav Kook in Jerusalem and the Reconstructionist Rabbincal College. Rabbi Grossman also works in the field of Jewish Special Education and co-wrote and participated in the video “Someone is Listening,” the story of a young deaf Jew and his search for fulfillment as a Jewish adult. Rabbi Grossman is also fluent in several sign languages.