Monthly Archives: June 2013

Parshat Korach: Talking About The Man in The Mirror

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Yesterday, our daughter Rena turned 3 months old. Every day is a new sound, a new sensation. Rena continues to dictate our schedule.  She enjoys interacting with others much more than the tummy time we force her through each day. Her favorite pastime, other than starring deep into her daddy’s eyes, is starring playfully into her mirror. Every time she looks it is as if she is finding herself for the first time. Whatever she may be thinking, and whether or not she realizes that it is herself on the other side of the mirror, she is playfully mesmerized as she looks back and forth.

Somewhat ironically, we use mirrors to reflect not only our outside appearance, but speak to our inner selves, to reassure ourselves that our mind, body AND spirit are engaged.


Stuart Smalley, played by Al Franken, is the Saturday Night Live Tony Robbins inspired self help guru who once got Michael Jordan through battles with self confidence.  His catch phrase, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and dogone it, people like me” was one of the first mantra’s I ever heard.

If only Korah had the good fortune to meet Stuart Smalley. Korah exuded confidence, but his mission lacked a few key ingredients to success.

Our torah portion follows Korah’s mutiny from the gathering and later consuming of 250 men  to the plaguing of his 14,000 supporters.   To understand why Korah failed in his coup de tat, we have to travel back for clearer context.

In last week’s torah portion, our “scouts” were sent out to survey the land of Israel. As history would have it, we now refer to many of these scouts as “spies.” As a punishment for their distrust or lack of faith in the divine power, the people of Israel are told that their generation would not enter the land.

Contextually, the Israelites have every right to be upset- they have been walking around in circles, given the promise of a land flowing with milk and honey. Our last torah reading prior to Parashat Korah gives us the commandment of “tzitzit,” the fringes of the prayer shawl. Tzitzit, symbolize the bringing together of the four corners of the world. It is meant to be an act of community building.

Now the stage has been set. We arrive at  Korah’s challenge, a single sentence hurled at Moshe and Aharon by 250 leaders:

“It has been enough leadership for you [Moses and Aaron]; all the people in the witness community are holy with the Lord in their midst. Why must you set yourselves up to be on a higher plane than the congregation of the Lord?” (Numbers 16:3)

We are ALL holy. What a powerful statement.  Korah used this “one liner” to rile up the people, but did he truly feel that everyone is holy or just that he should be held in higher esteem? The text states,“Vayikach Korach,” and Korah took. He attempts to take by force, to capture, to seize. Korah, does not embrace, he does not squeeze, he does not hold close. I agree with Korah’s half-hearted statement that we are all holy creatures, but I’d also like to think that holiness is not a privilege, it’s an obligation. We learn that Korah was a Rebel without a cause.  He could’ve seen the laws of tzitzit as an avenue leading towards a sharing community. He could look in the mirror and truly find holiness in everyone, not just himself.

What can WE do as holy vessels to look at ourselves, to question why we do things, question who are we surrounded by?

A few weeks ago, I had that look in the mirror. I attended my 9th Cantors Assembly convention. It was great to catch up with colleagues and classmates, and the late night promenade concerts are always a highlight. This year I attended 4 day workshop entitled, “Song leader Boot Camp” led by Jewish Rock musician Rick Recht. Most of our workshop hours involved body movement, asking questions, and reciting mantras. Very little time was devoted to singing. How ironic that at the conclusion of our convention, The Cantors Assembly unveiled a new motto for its marketing campaign: “singing is just the beginning.” It put’s the cantor beyond the pulpit, beyond the classroom. Then people might respond, “Cantor, you can do that?” Yes I can!

As an individual, it’s hard to undergo a  radical transformation, a rebranding of ones self. It is hard to change, to grow, to ask tough questions, when you are comfortable.  It’s tough to run through a workshop where you break down every form of how you might teach, how you might take over a space, and start a new with fresh ideas. It is a battle against the still existant perception that a cantor is there to sing, to be a minister for music and nothing else. It is also hard to try to change it up when you’ve created a certain persona, a certain style of cantorate in your pulpit position in a loving community. Why send in for a recall if it ain’t broken? Our group of 30 or so embarked on a 4 day journey to achieve what Recht called “Star State” :Super-charging yourself to make a quick and radical change in your physical and psychological state so you can deliver at peak levels.  How could I as a leader walk into a room and exude confidence and engage others in a meaningful way.

We took the Psychological approach:

Radically change your psychology by changing your FOCUS.

• Change your FOCUS by concentrating on your Sense of Purpose.

• What is my PURPOSE?

To Teach

To Learn

To Inspire

To Create Community

To teach Judaism

We asked tough questions:

Why am I SO fortunate to have this opportunity to lead?

What is this group expecting? What am I expecting?

To strengthen our leadership skills, we were encouraged to

Get focused

Get modest

Get humble

Get ready to learn

Get ready to observe

Be Genuine!

Be Authentic!

BE Myself!

To build rapport, foster respect and share with my community.

We recited Mantras so many times that we began to believe they were true and take on the responsibilities that came with them:

I am here to learn

I am here to teach

I am here to celebrate

I am blessed to have this community

Exceed expectations

Set a new standard

I am a leader

I am a leader

I am a leader

We saw the power of tone: “I am a leader, I AM a leader.”… Successful mantras don’t give a false sense of accomplishment.  Rather, they force us to push ourselves, to be that leader, to be present in the moment. These are all Mottos to live by-. None are rocket science.  But it is important to embrace them every day.

We moved our bodies and talked about the forms of Non-verbal communication and how to utilize the space you have:

55%-95% percent of your effective communication comes from your physical communication

38% our tone of voice

7% the actual words we use

Tone and body language.

There are techniques that I hope to utilize in the future to be a better leader, to build a stronger community. I hope to be in a true STAR state the person who makes OTHERS the stars, who transfers energy, kavod, respect, and honor to others. All before I even open my mouth to sing.

What was Korah’s tone and body language?  We can only speculate. Maybe Korah could’ve used Star State, making others the star. We all, like Korah, have the inclination to do the right thing for the wrong reasons, to fight the status quo ONLY if our best interests are in mind.  The Korach in each of us is only that more dangerous because we fail to take a look in the mirror and ask ourselves important questions. Each day we recite the words “Yihiyu L’ratzon imrei fi, v’hegyon libi lifanech”- May the words of my mouth AND the meditations of my heart. Our intention is just as important as our action.I hope you find that you don’t need the High Holidays to have a moment of introspection, a moment to look in the mirror, to remember that you are holy, and it is with that holiness that have the obligation and capacity to inspire, to learn, to teach, to grow, and to create a loving community.