Weekly Update: Lord, raise up leaders in Israel who will seek Your face

editor - 1 July 2019

I’m in Jerusalem at the moment with a group of other international law students from universities in Singapore, Australia and the Netherlands, and I’m wondering what on earth I’m going to write this weekly update about.

I could talk about the recent conference in Bahrain about “Peace to Prosperity” – President Trump’s economic plan to kick-start the Palestinian economy (a brilliant idea but the Palestinians boycotted, predictably, and it seems to have been a bit of a fizzler). Or about the ongoing political machinations in Israel (Ehud Barak has just announced he is forming – yet another  – new political party, to kick-start his political come-back). Or the seemingly interminable anti-Semitism scandals in the UK Labour party (ho hum).

But to be quite honest, I’m more than a little tired and perhaps even disillusioned with the endless conferences and discussions and all the posturing and positioning for power and influence. It all seems so human.

So it was refreshing to read a wonderful reflection by one of my favourite commentators and modern philosophers – former Chief Rabbi of the UK Lord Jonathan Sacks – in his reflection on the Parashah this week – the story of Korah and his sons (Numbers 16-17). His reflection seems perfectly suited to the situation today, and is a salient reminder that none of our efforts – NONE – has any merit in the eyes of the Lord if we are not seeking His truth and glory.

(Interestingly, the Bible text that I received on my phone this morning were the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 6:33

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well”.)

Rabbi Sacks notes that, according to the sages, the problem with what Korah and his friends were saying was that they were seeking influence and power – not truth.

“The Sages were drawing a fundamental distinction between two kinds of conflict: argument for the sake of truth and argument for the sake of victory. ”

“The passage must be read this way, because of the glaring discrepancy between what the rebels said and what they sought. What they said was that the people did not need leaders. They were all holy. They had all heard the word of God. There should be no distinction of rank, no hierarchy of holiness, within Israel. “Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?” (Numbers 16:3) Yet from Moses’ reply, it is clear that he had heard something altogether different behind their words

Moses also said to Korach, ‘Now listen, you Levites! Is it not enough for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of the Israelite community and brought you near Himself to do the work at the Lord’s Tabernacle and to stand before the community and minister to them? He has brought you and all your fellow Levites near Himself, but now you are trying to get the Priesthood too.’ (Numbers 16:8-10)

“It was not that they wanted a community without leaders. It is, rather, that they wanted to be the leaders. The rebels’ rhetoric had nothing to do with the pursuit of truth and everything to do with the pursuit of honour, status, and (as they saw it) power. They wanted not to learn but to win. They sought not verity but victory.”

According to Rabbi Sacks the answer God gives to the grumbling Israelites, in the budding of Aaron’s staff, is a reminder that God promises us that He will bless us if we seek His honour.

The almond branch symbolised the priestly will to life as against the rebels’ will to power. The Priest does not rule the people; he blesses them. He is the conduit through which God’s life-giving energies flow. He connects the nation to the Divine Presence. Moses answered Korach in Korach’s terms, by a show of force. God answered in a quite different way, showing that leadership is not self-assertion but self-effacement.”

“In an argument for the sake of truth, both sides win, for each is willing to listen to the views of its opponents, and is thereby enlarged. In argument as the collaborative pursuit of truth, the participants use reason, logic, shared texts, and shared reverence for texts. They do not use ad hominem arguments, abuse, contempt, or disingenuous appeals to emotion. Each is willing, if refuted, to say, “I was wrong.” There is no triumphalism in victory, no anger or anguish in defeat.

The story of Korach remains the classic example of how argument can be dishonoured. The Schools of Hillel and Shammai remind us that there is another way. “Argument for the sake of Heaven” is one of Judaism’s noblest ideals – conflict resolution by honouring both sides and employing humility in the pursuit of truth.”

These comments are a helpful and timely reminder for our group of international lawyers gathered here in Jerusalem this week, that our efforts to articulate the arguments supporting Israel’s position and persuade others of their merits – even if well-intended – will not be blessed if we are not seeking after truth.
And it is a reminder that Israel desperately needs leaders not like Korah who sought power, but like Moses and Aaron who sought truth and mercy.

As Israel prepares itself for new elections in September, let us pray that the Lord will raise up men and women in Israel who seek not to aggrandise themselves or achieve power for power’s sake, but who will seek to lead the people of Israel in truth and mercy. Only then will your Kingdom come.
And let us pray that the nations will encourage the people of Israel to seek to seek truth and justice and serve their God, not the interests of this world.”Lord God, have mercy and forgive the sins of the church, that has proudly scorned and despised your people. Have mercy and forgive the sins of the nations, who have trampled upon Jerusalem for 2000 years. Pour out on the House of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication, and prepare them for the coming of Messiah, as you promised through your prophet Zechariah.”
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