Parashat Korach: Remarks By Rabbi Heather Miller (June 19, 2015)

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Shabbat shalom to you on this last week of spring. Summer starts Monday. What’s your favorite thing about summer?

Nothing says summer is here more to me than seeing cherries at the grocery store. They are not in season the whole year, and then, bam! Right before summer, it is as if they magically appear at the grocery store! Do you know the plant that announces the beginning of Spring? The almond tree. Some almond trees blossom right before Tu B’Shvat- the holiday where we acknowledge winter is coming to an end and spring is upon us! The almond tree is very special and Jewish– and joyful– we will learn more about it’s significance later.

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Did you know that the universally recognized symbol of the Jewish people used to be- not the Star of David- but the seven branched menorah?! Menorahs were featured in the Temple. And remember how I noted that the almond tree was special? The menorahs were meant to look like they were made out of branches from the almond tree! The prophet Jeremiah mentions that in his vision, he saw a branch of the almond tree– this serves as the basis for the idea that maybe he saw the menorah.

Plus, if the menorah itself looked like it was made from almond branches, when it was lit, it would look like a bush that is burning but is not consumed just like the image that Moses saw when God first appeared to him. In this way, the almond branched menorah turns into a symbol for God. The almond tree is indeed very special.

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The first prayer in the 19 prayer mega-prayer known as the Amidah is called the Avot which means ancestors. Who are the ancestors that we call to mind? Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. Which was the ancestor known for his dreams? Jacob. Does anyone know what city Jacob had his dream about the celestial angels in? Luz! Luz was the word used in Genesis (30:37) to describe the almond nut. That’s because Luz is the Aramaic and Ethiopic name for almond.– And remember that Jacob was later known as Israel– so once again, the almond serves as a powerful symbol- here, we, Israel, were symbolized in the image of the almond nut!

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The almond tree once again becomes important in the Jewish story in this week’s Torah portion, Korach. You see, what happened was a long long time ago, a man named Korach, started a rebellion against Moses and Aaron. He got lots and lots of people to start to question their leadership. Can you believe people didn’t think Aaron was fit to lead? Well here’s what happened. God called for a competition– God instructed the leaders of each tribe to give Moses a staff, and Moses wrote the tribe’s name on each staff. Moses left them in the tabernacle overnight and God said:
“And it shall come to pass, that the man whom I shall choose [for leadership], his rod shall bud.” (Num. 17: 20)

His walking staff, presumably made of a dead piece of wood, should suddenly sprout new growth? Sounds impossible, right?
But guess what happened? Immediately after, a verse in the Torah says:
וְהִנֵּה פָּרַח מַטֵּה-אַהֲרֹן, לְבֵית לֵוִי; וַיֹּצֵא פֶרַח וַיָּצֵץ צִיץ, וַיִּגְמֹל שְׁקֵדִים.
“Behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and put forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and bore ripe almonds.”
(Num. 17:23)

So, not only did Aaron’s staff bud, but it bore fruit! Specifically edible seeds– almonds! In fact the Hebrew word for “almond” — shaked– literally means to “waken” as well, it being the first to awaken from the hibernation of the winter of the all fruits. So here, Aaron made his staff awaken and bear fruit– the almond nut! Hopefully, this also helped the people awaken to the truth that he was the chosen leader.

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What an important symbol of our people. The almond tree branches form the menorah- a symbol of God, the city of Luz (translated as almond nut) was a sacred place for Israel, and therefore, the almond is a fitting fruit to symbolize our people– And, this also proves that are a nutty people! And, here, in this week’s Torah portion, the almond symbolizes the leadership and chain of tradition of Aaron, father of all the Temple leaders. What a powerful symbol!

If you were a symbol, what would you choose to symbolize who you are? What actions did you take this week to reinforce that this symbol would be fitting to serve as your symbol?

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