Torah Study with Rabbi Daniel

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Shalom from OSRUI! Every year, more than 50 Rabbis, Cantors, and Educators who spend time with us at camp in the summer.  They work closely with the Rashei Eidot (unit heads) to create fun Jewish experiences that are educational and engaging. Today we are joined by Rabbi Daniel Kirzane as her teaches us about the message from this week’s Torah Portion, Korach.

People of all ages come to OSRUI to build community. Our chanichim (campers) make lifelong friends … and then some of them come back as segel (faculty) with young children in our chaverim (friends) program for pre-campers. The vast array of people at OSRUI each contributesomething beautiful and unique to our sacred community, and that community has a lasting, identity-forming impact on everyone who spends time here.

It’s essential for us here at OSRUI to think about community from a Jewish lens as well. We strive to inspire commitment to Jewish values in our daily lives and appreciation for belonging in the Jewish community. This summer, we’re focusing each week’s learning on a different Jewish sensibility, and this week, we’re exploring Eilu V’eilu, the concept that competing ideas can all have merit and even truth.

The primary source of this Jewish sensibility is a story told in the Talmud (Eruvin 13b):

For three years the House of Shammai and the House of Hillel disagreed. These said: The law is in accordance with our opinion, and these said: The law is in accordance with ouropinion. Ultimately, a Divine Voice emerged and proclaimed: Both these and those [eiluv’eilu] are the words of the living God. However, the law is in accordance with the opinion of the House of Hillel.

Both competing schools of thought had valid points; indeed, both were true according to God! But you can only pick one ruling at a time, and Hillel was favored over Shammai. Why? The text continues: “they were agreeable and forbearing” and they always taught both their own view andthe view of their opponent; moreover, “they put the words of the House of Shammai before their own.” Though they disagreed with the Shammai, the House of Hillel always carried itself with deference and respect.

Pirkei Avot (5:17) teaches us that the debate between Hillel and Shammai was a machloketl’shem shamayim, a dispute for the sake of heaven; in other words, an argument for the right reasons and conducted in a respectful way. And the same text suggests the primary example of a dispute that is not for the sake of heaven: the rebellion of Korach, whose story we read in this week’s Torah portion.

In short, Korach musters 250 chieftains to “rise up” against Moses (Num. 16:1-4). Though his message seems justified—he asks why Moses appears higher than anyone else when “all of the community are holy”—his demeanor is violent and aggressive. Moreover, he has a personal stake in leadership of the community, so his motives seem highly impure. God ultimately settles the matter by causing the earth to open up and swallow Korach and his discontents, showing once and for all that you can be held accountable not just for what you say but also for how and why you say it.

These are some of the values we strive to live by here at OSRUI. We value the opinion and perspective of every person here, from the youngest to the oldest, and that atmosphere of dignity helps everyone here feel safe. Even when we disagree—and it’s inevitable that we will—we try to do so with calmness and respect. I see it all the time in Avodah, the service corps of rising seniors in whose unit I have the privilege to be the rabbinic faculty member. And I see it among even the youngest chanichim, like my son and his peers in Kallah Aleph and my daughter’s circle of chaverim.

As we conclude our second week here at OSRUI, it’s just as obvious as ever why we—and so many other families—keep coming back year after year. This is truly a safe and sacred community where each of us can be respected and accepted for who we are and what we believe.

Daniel Kirzane is the Associate Rabbi of Oak Park Temple in Oak Park, IL.  He is at camp this summer as a Segel Member for Avodah, the Internship, Work, and Study Program at OSRUI.