Pride 2013 Drash: And the Earth Opened Its Mouth: Queer Meditations on Pride and Humility in 2013
By: Rabbi Dror Chankin-Gould
Parashat Korach. Numbers. Chapter 16. Verse 1.
Now Coldness, son of Hatred, son of Discrimination, son of Arrogance, betook himself, along with Homophobia and Heternonrmotavity, sons of Ignorance, and Exclusion son of Pain… to rise up against Moses, together with two hundred and fifty Israelites, chieftains of the community, chosen in the assembly, men of repute. They combined against Moses and Aaron and said to them : “Why do you raise yourselves above the congregation? What makes you so special? We want to dominate this community with our power.
The story of Korach, this week’s Parashah, is a story of an arrogant, boastful, and destructive band who rose up against Moses and Aaron, flew in the face of justice, and tried to foist their insurgent social order on the newly freed Jewish people. As Queer people, as Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgender People, Friends, Family, and Allies, we are often inclined to read ourselves into history as the rebels, the outsiders, the bands of insurgents fighting the Machine.
Which means, that on Pride Shabbat, we might be tempted to see ourselves reflected in Korach and his allies. After all, these men rose up against those who possessed power, and demanded change and innovation. They advocated for a system of shared leadership rather than hierarchically imposed control. It would be easy to look in the mirror and say, yeah, that’s us, we are the children of Korach, demanding change and justice.
It’s a drash we’ve made in the past, it’s one we will no doubt make again in the future.
But not tonight.
Tonight, for once, I refuse to see myself as a son of Korach. Rather, we Queers, we LGBT Jews, we are the children of Moses. We are the children of Aaron. We are not the villain. We are the heroes of this story!
The name Korach has the same root as the Hebrew word, Kerach, meaning ice. Korach represents what is cold and hard and immobile. Korach represents what it is to emotionally freeze out those who would love us.
It’s Pride Shabat, and it’s true that Korach represents a certain kind of Pride. But, I daresay, it’s not the Pride we’re fighting for.
Korach represents a Pride, which we know all too well, a Pride which is truly arrogance and haughtiness. Korach is the pride which leads us to inflate ourselves so large that we ignore and hide our eyes from the suffering of our neighbors. Korach is the Pride which is unrelenting, which leaves no room for forgiveness or repentance or change. Korach is the Pride of gloating over an enemy’s defeat, making him feel small, making her feel stupid, taking pleasure in the shauedenfraude of another’s woundedness. It’s a sort of Pride to be sure. But it’s not the Pride we choose. It’s not the Pride we’re striving for. We are more than the Pride of Korach, than the Pride of Iciness, Coldness, Hardness. We are more than that.
We are the children of Moses and Aaron and Miriam. Entering that time-capsule of our imagination which brings us back into the Desert epoch of our ancestors: we are the leaders. We are the heroes.
We are inheritors of the courage of those who left slavery and fought to the death for freedom.
We are the descendants of Moses, who defeated injustice, who lived righteousness, and who was nonetheless described not as Proud, but as Humble, ענו מאד
We come from stock that knows how to fight for Dignity, and how to do so without losing Humanity.
We are the children of the daughters of Zelophad, we are the daughters and the sons of Mahlha, Tirtza, Hoglah, Milcah, and Noa. We come from women who stood up to Moses and demanded justice. But unlike Korach, they didn’t do it for their own aggrandizement or for power, they did it for freedom, they did it for their daughters, they did it for the sake of Heaven. The daughters of Zelopehad knew that Moses could be challenged, they challenged sexist legal precedent, and they changed it . They changed it by using the court system. They changed it by pleading their case. They changed it without violence, and without arrogance and without coldness. Rather, with warmth and love and perseverance, they changed the law.
We in the LGBT community are their descendants: we know a little bit of something about fighting in the courts against hatred and bigotry and second class status and skim milk marriage!
We are the children of Caleb and Joshua, the courageous spies who in last week’s Torah portion told the people to go to the Promised Land, to have faith, to fight the good fight, no matter how long, no matter how hard.
Like Caleb and Joshua, we are inheritors of an optimism and a hope which brings us to count our victories and not our defeats: 12 states and counting baby!
We are the children of Aaron. Korach, Iciness, Coldness, Hardness, who was he fighting? He was fighting Aaron. And who is Aaron? Aaron is described in Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, as אוהב שלום רודף שלום loving peace and pursing peace. That’s us. We aren’t fighting because we want to see our enemies suffer. We aren’t fighting because we have a need to sit in the throne, to lord over the community. No, we are Aaron’s children, we are fighting because we love peace and we pursue peace.
We love the peace which comes with equality with justice with fairness. Peace, shalom, means wholeness, really. Wholeness- when all the parts of our hearts and all the members of our society are wholly celebrated and wholly welcomed and wholly embraced and wholly equal. That’s the peace we’re fighting for, that’s the peace we’re dying for, that’s the peace we will never stop demanding. We are the children of Aaron.
This year, only weeks ago, I was ordained from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University, I was the first openly gay man to become a Rabbi in that Conservative Movement institution. I fought long and hard to get inside those doors, to be part of that conversation, to be included and celebrated and equal. Many of you fought long and hard too: hard to see this moment arise when there is greater justice and wholeness and peace in our Jewish community.
So this Pride, standing on the other side of that miracle, that milestone, I believe, I cannot help but believe, that the ice does melt. That enough love and warmth conquers cold and darkness.
Numbers 16:32: “And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up Korach”
May the day come soon, when the earth will open her mouth and swallow up Ice and Coldness and Hardness, destroy Hatred and Bigotry and Oppression, eradicate Homophobia and Transphobia and Biphobia.
We children of Aaron, we believe that that day will come. And in the meantime, we fight to make it come sooner.
Tonight is Pride Shabbat. So if our Pride is not the Pride of Korach, what is it?
Our pride is not the pride of haughtiness, but rather it is the pride of confidence. Our pride is not the pride of arrogance, but rather it is the pride of self esteem. Our pride is not the pride of degradation, but rather it is the pride of celebration.
Our pride is the pride of hope and justice and goodness and the belief that the world does get better, that the ice does melt, that peace is worth fighting for, that we are the descendants of heroes, that we are the proud children of Moses, of Miriam, of Aaron.
Happy Pride. Shabbat Shalom.