Friday, June 12, 2015

The Power of Surprise (Portion Korach)

All that is beautiful, true, always comes as a surprise.  So retain the capacity to be surprised.  Once you lose that capacity you are dead.  If things can surprise you, you are still alive.  And the more you are surprised by things, the more alive you are.
                                    -Osho, Above All, Don’t Wobble

As we grow older, it is easy to become jaded—to lose our capacity for surprise.  Like the world-weary author of Ecclesiastes, we may be tempted to declare that nothing is new under the sun.  We come to view all that is currently happening through the fixed lens of past experience.  When this happens, we lose our capacity to embrace change and novelty and thereby calcify our souls and our selves.

Torah seeks to jar us out of such cynicism and complacency.  Part of God’s calling is to keep us on our toes, attentive and open to surprise.  Consider this week’s Torah portion, Korach.   It tells the tragic story of the most heinous of several mutinies launched against Moses and his leadership.  The leader of the rebels, Korach, is ultimately swallowed up by the earth, along with his followers.  In both the biblical story and the many centuries of commentary that follow, Korach remains a symbol of greed and bloodthirsty lust for power.

Yet, lest we get too attached to a simplistic worldview in which Korach and his company represent pure and everlasting evil, when we get to the book of Psalms, we find that twelve of the 150 psalms (42-49, 85, 87, and 88) are attributed to b’nai Korach, the children of Korach.  What a remarkable surprise: just a few generations after the father of all rebellions is severely punished directly by God, along with his entire family, we find that his descendants are creating magnificent songs of praise to God that merit inclusion in the Psalter!

This is an important reminder for us to resist our negative preconceptions based on past experience.  If we seek to experience beauty—in music and art and poetry and, really, any aspect of life—we must be prepared to be surprised at its often deeply unexpected origins.    Life is far stranger than we often give it credit for being—thank God!

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