Thursday, July 4, 2019

The Right and Wrong Ways of Declaring Independence

On July 4th, 1776, the Continental Congress ratified the Declaration of Independence, officially seceding from the British Crown. This year, July 4th falls during the week of parashat Korach (outside the state of Israel). It is worth comparing the justification of Korach and his band’s rebellion with that of the Founding Fathers.

The Torah is cryptic about Korach’s reasons for fomenting mutiny. The verse, “And Korach took,” (Numbers 16:1) opens itself up to rabbinic interpretation. The rabbis add that Korach felt that he was just as capable of serving as the High Priest as his cousin Aaron, and claimed that Moses’ selection of his brother Aaron for the role, was based on pure nepotism. Others claim that he felt humiliated when all of his body hair was shaven, in preparation for his functioning in the Tabernacle as a Levite (see Numbers 8:7).

Korach convinced 250 members of the tribe of Reuben to join his “fifth column.” The rabbis explain that since their ancestor (Reuben) was the first-born of Jacob, Korach convinced them to protest their lack of playing any role in the leadership of the Children of Israel. Also, the tribe of Reuben was physically situated near where Korach lived, so Korach successfully riled up his neighbors to join his cause.

The absence of definitive rationales in the Torah tells the reader that the rationales were secondary to the cause.

The Declaration of Independence begins by justifying secession. “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” Jefferson and his co-authors’ brilliant, audacious and completely groundbreaking political philosophy on government, which function as the underpinnings of America’s Constitutional Republic, are only expressed after a case is made why a new nation was necessary and that co-existence was impossible.

The Declaration of Independence ends with a pledge of unity: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” Legend relates that the oldest of the signers of the Declaration, Benjamin Franklin, allegedly commented after signing, “We must all hang together, or most assuredly, we will all hang separately.” The Sages in Pirkei Avot (5:17) claim: “Any dispute for the sake of heaven will ultimately be realized. Any dispute not for the sake of heaven will not come to fruition.” The example offered for the former case are the debates between the sages Hillel and Shammai; the Mishnah cites the dispute between Korach and “his band” as an example of the latter. The commentaries note that the Mishnah did not cite the debate between “Korach and Moses.” It was the infighting within Korach’s own faction that testified to it not being based upon idealism.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

No comments: