Questioning Authority

Americans love to challenge their leaders, and this week's Torah portion helps explain how and when to do that

A few weeks ago I was driving my 12-year-old daughter's car pool to her middle school. As I was pulling up to the curb to drop the kids off, the car in front of us was being aggressively moved on by the traffic monitor, even though there were only two cars on the street. The driver of the car was complaining that one of the children had forgotten something. On the car was affixed a bumper sticker that read, "Question Authority."

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"I guess the driver questions the authority of traffic regulations," my daughter commented. Her friends giggled and hooted.

It struck me as ironic that about six months ago one of this group of laughing adolescents had emailed me to discuss Korah, the Torah portion that he would read and explain on the Shabbat--now this coming Shabbat--he would become a Bar Mitzvah. The portion recounts a rebellion by Korah, a tribal chief, against the leadership of Moses while the Jews are wandering in the Sinai Desert. One might say that its underlying theme is about the appropriate time to question authority.

"Rabbi Jane," this young man wrote, "I hope you won't be unhappy with me, but I think that Korah is right to challenge Moses. Moses was pushing everyone around. Why did God side with Moses and not Korah?"

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