I recently had a brush with death. Sadly I’m not exaggerating. Another 5-10 minutes faster by the fire or slower by the alarm company and poof: gone or burn ward. I’m still processing it. But when I realized the next parshah was Korach, I laughed.
On the surface, it’s about a rebellion to displace Moses as leader. A full bore, get outta here you’re fired attempt to take charge. It’s really about our persistent ability to be unconscious. What looks like a story about rising up and being cast into a fiery pit is really about our unconsciousness’s nasty habit of using complacency, forgetfulness, and mindless acts of stupidity to create confusion and chaos.
Raise your hand if you’ve never blurted the wrong word to exactly the wrong person or missed a critical deadline. Give yourself a gold star if you’ve never sliced your thumb instead of the bagel, hit another car, or tweaked your knee trying to do too much too fast.
When you’re so close to manifestation–making it to your personal promised land–along comes your inner saboteur. Your unconscious. Your stubborn ability to take a good situation and make it bad.
This reading is about screwing up in a serious way. The kind where you really blow it. Get very close to the edge of that deep pit. Maybe even get charred and smokey from the billowing sparks.
Disaster can happen in an instant, even if you build up to it slowly. Unconsciousness can take many creative forms, even seemingly passive ones like laziness, procrastination, and failure to see the big impacts of small choices. Mostly it’s about not being present in the given moment, whether that’s by distraction or entrenched patterns of behavior.
Staying alive means being fully present, not sorta kinda half-assed being here.
Korach has a simple plot. A lot of Torah does. That’s part of why the phrase “Bible stories” conjures simple picture-book imagery. Like us, it’s a collection of stories that describe and define us. Each family has stories that any relative could tell in virtually the same words and with the same timing, pausing for the laugh lines and moans. They’ve become myth, iconic, and archetypal: The time when……
We also carry personal stories. Deeper ones, sometimes never even told, about people and passages long closed or others longed for but never manifested, the places we’re longing to get to. We tell stories of our promised land, even if we haven’t seen it yet.
Torah cycles around every year so we can keep peeling back the layers of its stories. Keep learning from them. Maybe not make the same mistakes over and over.
Unconsciousness keeps us stuck in an old story. It’s a lifestyle that hobbles you, keeps you walking around the same old same old until you either totally check out or something happens so big and dramatic that you have to change. Because being unconscious for too long can propel you into a %^#^&%%#ing mess of a story like a car wreck or a fire that forces you to pay attention. Really pay attention.
Better to wake up now and tell better stories. If you really wanna get to where you’re going, it helps to be alive.