Timely Thoughts

Korach

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Zohar Atkins

And they assembled against Moses and Aaron

and said to them, “You are too great.

Is not everyone—the entire community—holy?

And Does God not also dwell amongst them?

Why do you lift yourselves above the assembly of God?”

(Numbers 16:3)

 

I.

The moral of Fight Club, says Badiou, is that the narrator’s nemesis is himself.

The distinction between protagonist and narrator is an optical illusion

Produced by the reader’s inability to understand narrative as inherently fictional.

 

The newly renovated, high-tech room is filled

With bespectacled graduate students, trust-fund bohemians,

And some working class kids from Ohio.

 

Adorned in tattered jeans and anarchist buttons

The faithful congregation of the Church of Critical Theory sits

Spellbound by the Master’s vaguely utopian, vaguely despairing gospel.

 

In the corner of his mouth, some foam appears

Resembling a piece of cornished hen.

He speaks from his notes, rarely looking up.

 

He pauses on the word, “Occupy”

Like a preacher waiting for his “Amen”

But receives only shuffled nods.

 

The students doodle in jargon

Preparing their next order

On AmazonPrime.

 

The message cannot be found

but the enemy is clear:

anything big + Mark Zuckerberg.

 

II.

Defenders of Korach compare him to Ché.

Critics see him more like Trump.

Everyone thinks the story is about politics.

 

But Ibn Ezra says the reality is far more tragic.

Korach was Moshe’s inner critic.

The voice that always said, “Who am I to do or think X?”

 

Moses couldn’t deal, so he banished it to the depths.

Of course, every time he lashed out

This was really Korach, protesting from within.

 

Levinas offers a more charitable reading.

Korach represents the voice of science

While Moses and Aaron, phenomenology.

 

The tale is a gigantomachia between the first-person

And the third.

“Redemption will come not when we banish Korach

 

But when we teach him humility.”

Dennett says it is Moses who must learn from Korach:

“Humility is in the scent of the frying pan.”

 

III.

Tell me something you have not learned

From a book, and I will ask myself

Into your heart.

 

Don’t say, “Neurosis and prophecy are one.”

Or, “If I could take one book I don’t believe in

it would be Ecclesiastes.”

 

Most poetry is noise, you say.

I say most language is the ruffle

Of false friends.

 

But I say there is a spirit in us

Which sees before knowing

What it sees. A spirit which is a machine

 

Like no one can produce.

The walls won’t interrupt me

Though I doubt they can be turned.

 

The soft earth is open.

Let us climb into it

And return without report.

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Zohar Atkins
Rabbi Dr. Zohar Atkins is the founder of Etz Hasadeh and a Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. He holds a DPhil in Theology from Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and semikha from JTS. He is the author of An Ethical and Theological Appropriation of Heidegger’s Critique of Modernity (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018) and Nineveh (Carcanet, 2019).