Posts Tagged ‘romance’

Bursting…

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

Korach - Bursting...
Art by Maggidah Shoshannah Brombacher, Ph.D.
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Contact her at shoshbm@gmail.com – originals from this series are available.

Korach: Numbers 16:1-18:32

"And the staff of Aaron…" (Numbers 17:21)

In this troubling and confusing parashah, we have the story of Korach’s rebellion against Moshe. If you subscribe to the documentary hypothesis – that the Torah is comprised of multiple human authors, and then Divinely assembled, some of the confusion can be understood. But whatever you believe, this story of an uprising by leaders of the people who seem, at face value, to have reasonable demands is unsettling. Of course they are defeated, by some combination of being swallowed alive by the "mouth of the earth" and death by plague – or both! And then there is one final encounter, in which a staff is set aside for each tribe, Aaron’s staff being used for the Levites, and lo and behold, Aaron’s staff bursts into flower and the others do not, thereby establishing his legitimacy. But haven’t we heard about this staff before? Or was it in a dream? Listen:

Some say that it was the staff which had been in the hand of Judah, in regard to which it says, And thy staff that is in thy hand (Gen. 38:18). Others say that it was the staff that had been in the hand of Moses. It budded of its own accord; as it says, And, behold, the rod of Aaron… was budded (Num. 17:23). Others again say that Moses took a beam and, cutting it into twelve planks, said to the princes: ‘Take your sticks every one of you from the same beam.’ Why did he do this? He did it in order that they should not say that Aaron’s rod was fresh and that this was the reason why it budded.

The Holy One, blessed be He, decreed that on the staff should be found the Ineffable Name that was on the plate (ziz), as may be inferred from the text, And put forth buds, and bloomed blossoms – ziz (Num. 17:23). It budded on the same night and yielded fruit.

That same staff was held in the hand of every king until the Temple was destroyed, and then it was divinely hidden away. That same staff also is destined to be held in the hand of the Messiah (may it be speedily in our days!); as it says, The staff of thy strength the Lord will send out of Zion: Rule thou in the midst of thine enemies (Ps. 90:2).

Midrash Rabbah – Numbers XVIII:23

The choice of a staff made from an almond tree is, of course, no coincidence. Other parts of this same midrash wonder why it didn’t yield a different fruit, such as pomegranates or nuts, but don’t say why it was from an almond tree!

In the common understanding of the times, the almond tree was the symbol of love: not just plain old love, or even romantic love, but the explosion of impetuous, first love, bursting out! Almond trees have tremendously fragrant and beautiful blossoms, and they erupt into blossom unpredictably – hence the association.

So what does this have to do with Aaron?

Aaron, whatever his other strengths or foibles may be, is primarily cast as the peacemaker. Indeed, in this very incident he stands between the firepots and the people, limiting the plague. So in a simple way, it does make sense that a symbol of love should be chosen for the brother who tends to epitomize the loving relationship between G!d and Israel.

But powerfully romantic?

Remember, the relationship between G!d and Israel is often cast as a marriage. At the time, and really until relatively recently, Jewish marriages were nearly always arranged. Love was something that blossomed later, more slowly, over time. An impetuous love was seen more as an infatuation, not something that would endure. Indeed, in modern times those who continue to subscribe to arranged marriages continue to hold these views.

So now it should be especially intriguing that we choose impetuous, impulsive, dare I say erotic love to symbolize the one who will establish the priesthood and, for many centuries, the vehicle for communication between G!d and the people!?

It is, in fact, this extravagant contradiction leads us to a deeper, sweeter truth: it is in fact G!d that erupts into this world, flooding our senses with a powerful yearning and joy, when we allow such moments to occur. To take advantage of the metaphor, what we must do is till the ground, plant the seed, feed and water it, with extreme patience. Because that moment of fruitful blossoming comes without warning, and lasts but an instant.

And returns, like clockwork, cycle after cycle.

How wonderful the power of metaphor!