Parashat Korah

Institutionalizing Freedom

The combination of Moses' vision and Korah's organizing skills is an instructive model for successful coalition building in the activist community.

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Moses strength was envisioning organization. His weakness was being too visionary to actually organize people. That vision alone is insufficient was one of the lessons of the civil rights movement. Shared ideals alone couldn't sustain unity between cruelly oppressed African Americans and privileged, though passionate, white believers in equality.

Lack of shared vision is equally disabling. The LGBT community fragments yearly into an increasing number of specific identities based on different nonconformities: gay-white-male; lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, queer or questioning; transgendered or transsexual. These nonconformities can lead to political divides as deep as any in Israel or the Jewish community.

The Torah shows the generation of the desert as lacking practice in self-government, lacking mutual trust, and lacking any connection between Moses' vision of the ideal society and Korah's political ability. Our ancestors' many fears and discontents continually led them to want to go back to Egypt, back to servitude. In a sense, their wish was granted, through the relative stability of the new theocracy.

Any nation or movement that hopes to institutionalize or maintain freedom must begin by creating coalitions based on people's real, seldom identical, priorities, rather than around assumed bases of unity. But that isn't enough--it must have a program, one that encompasses more than protest, for the purpose of reaching definable goals, based on shared values.

Without Korah's skills, no such coalition can come into being. Without Moses' vision, no coalition can survive and mature into a real community or society. When both combine, the opportunity exists for democracy and stability to triumph together.

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Nina Wouk is an accountant who spends most of her free time serving on three ritual committees.