This weekend we celebrate my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary, which has given me a good excuse to look back through a lifetime of family photos. They show me grow into a fully rebellious teenager – shaved head, piercings all over my face and boots so big they could be justified only in face of a mudslide.
But rebellion was always considered a natural part of my growing up, and equally of the Judaism I knew. My Jewish youth movement, LJY-Netzer, took me to demonstrations, while studying Torah and Talmud showed me people who argued with each other and with God.
Therefore I always found the Biblical story of Korach shocking. Korach argues all the community is holy and the priests therefore cannot have a monopoly over the priestly role.
In response, the earth opens up and swallows him, all his followers and all their property.
It is one of the most fascinating yet problematic stories of the Torah.
Surely Korach is a character we can identify with – a proponent of democracy, grassroots activism and empowerment. Watching so many women (and men) across the world march to draw attention to women’s rights and advocacy over the past few weeks, it strikes me that rebellion is necessary. What then do we do with Korach? As my instinct and upbringing leads me to understand where he was coming from, I turn to Pirkei Avot, which says his actions were not for the sake of heaven but his own selfish reasons.
This, perhaps, is the difference between the teenager staring back at me in the photos and the rebellion I advocate today. Rebellion for the sake of ensuring a better and safer world is for sake of heaven, while rebellion for a later curfew and bigger boots is perhaps not!
Charley is Liberal Judaism’s director of strategy and partnerships