If these die like the death of all men, and the destiny of all men is visited on them, then it is not יהוה Who has sent meNumbers 16:29
As I was studying this Parsha, I read the commentary of Rabbi Yissachar Frand on this portion and he comments on a question the rabbis ask that I think few believers ask themselves. Why was Korach’s death different from all the other deaths that occurred during the forty years of wandering?
It is Rabbi’s Frand’s second analysis that peaked my interest for this weeks comments. To condense Rabbi Frand’s argument here, it is that Korach argued that Moshe was not special, “‘all Israel is holy,’ so why are you telling us what to do?” That is to say, we are all equal, what makes you better than us?
On its surface, this seems like a reasonable question, especially today, in America, where everything and everyone tells us we are equal, there is no difference between sexes or people. Our Constitution and the Declaration of Independence even tell us “all men are created equal…”
However, scripture seems to be bi-polar when it talks of equality. The Torah tells us in several places, we are to be judged equally under the Torah. Rabbi Shaul tells the Galatians there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or freeman, male or female, but all are one in Messiah (3:28). On the other hand, Israel is held to a higher standard of behavior, widows, orphans and the ‘stranger’ have special protections because of their vulnerability, and women are seen as weaker than men in certain aspects.
It is the argument of the Zohar (a 14th century work credited to a first century rabbi) that really what Korach was arguing had to do with the equality of Shabbat with other days of the week. Where does the writer of the Zohar get this idea? Well the last story before this portion deals with the Gentile “working” on Shabbat. Korach was arguing, why was he killed for working on Shabbat, aren’t all days created equally? Does this argument sound familiar? As Jewish (or at least Torah observant) Believers, this question is asked frequently, and the reciprocal is asked by us as well.
Why is This important?
So why is this an important issue? After all, God has been working through the Body of Messiah regardless of the day they worship on, non-believers have believed, people have received healing, and other miracles have still occurred over the history of the Church. So, again, what is the importance of the Shabbat?
In addition, Rabbi Shaul writes in Romans 14 that “One person esteems one day over another while another judges every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes that day does so to the Lord. The one who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and the one who abstains, abstains to the Lord, and he gives thanks to God.” Does this not tell us that we can worship on any day we choose?
It is interesting to note, that Shaul wrote those words before he was asked by Jacob (James) to prove his loyalty to the Torah and years before his defense to Agrippa and Festus in the book of Acts, were he admits he is still a Pharisee and has been faithful to the Torah. In addition, the writer of Hebrews, which many believe to be Shaul, which was written ten years after the letter to the Romans, equates the Shabbat to the Kingdom of God.
In the ten Mitzvot (Lit. Ten “Words” or “Things”) lists the Shabbat as number 4, behind God, Idols and using God’s name in vain. In Shemot (Exodus), Shabbat remembers the act of creation and in Devarim (Deuteronomy) it is related to the exodus. Both important events in the history of the world and Jews. Throughout the scriptures, the importance of the Shabbat is expressed, especially in the story mentioned above (Bemidbar (Numbers) 15).
So when Shaul says, “let each be fully convinced in his own mind.” He is not saying that it is ok to worship any day but that those who are struggling with moving from the pagan idea of worship into a Jewish/Biblical way of life should not be judged to harshly. Instead they need encouragement and instruction in a proper, God fearing way of life.
As always, if we read Shaul’s works in the light of Gentiles coming into a way of life that was foreign and unfamiliar, rather than as a polemic against a biblical way of life, we can see that he was trying, in his own way, to encourage those new believers in their walk and trying to clean up false doctrine at the same time.
Some of Moshe’s last words to Israel (Both Israel and Gentiles), “See, I have set before you today life and good, and death and evil. What I am commanding you today is to love Adonai your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His mitzvot, statutes and ordinances. Then you will live and multiply, and Adonai your God will bless you in the land you are going in to possess. . . I call the heavens and the earth to witness about you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Therefore choose life so that you and your descendants may live,” Deuteronomy 30:15 -16; 19 (TLV). Despite the words of many Theologians, the words of Torah are not to difficult, unless of coarse, like Israel for years after they entered the land, they reject the Torah as being authoritative.
So, I encourage you, as the writer of Hebrews did, do not fall into the sin of Korach, but understand that the Shabbat is given as a symbol of the Messianic Kingdom, and as such is a weekly reminder of that time to come. When all men will worship the God of Israel as one new man in Messiah. It is not a path to justification but to understanding through action that leads to a righteous life.