As You Were: Haftarah for Parashat Korach Meets George MacDonald

In case you haven’t read my previous blogs, George MacDonald (1824–1905) is my favorite author, poet, and spiritual teacher. More often than I can say, the Torah portion the whole Jewish world is reading each week matches up in some central way to at least one of George MacDonald’s poems for that exact same week from the 365 poems in Diary of an Old Soul.

It happened again this week. This portion is one of the most disturbing so far, at least to me, when the earth opens up and swallows Korach and his entire family alive for their rebellion against Moses and Aaron. Then the portion goes on to tell of a horrifying plague for the rest of the rebels, one that is curtailed by Aaron’s efforts on their behalf. Then, to make sure everyone knows that Aaron is God’s choice for leading the people in worship, Aaron’s staff is the only one that buds and produces ripe almonds.

Lots of shock and awe in this portion. I always wonder what the Haftarah will choose for its focus, and this week, I was stunned to see that it followed the same pattern as George MacDonald’s choices for this week in June.

In 1 Samuel 11:14–12:22, Samuel confronts Israel with its lack of faith in Hashem, warning them about their mistake in demanding a king like the other nations, when Hashem himself was their king and the reason why they were set apart from other nations.

At the same time, I read all week in George MacDonald’s visionary poetry about our failings and unrequitable yearning for purity and righteousness, our “low selves” and how trapped we are by being who we are. Pretty depressing stuff in both places.

And yet, there it is, like a beacon at the end of Samuel’s condemnation:

Samuel said to the people, “Fear not, you have done all this evil—but do not turn away from following Hashem, rather serve Hashem with all your heart. Do not turn away for [that would be to] pursue futilities that cannot avail and cannot rescue, for they are futile. For Hashem shall not forsake His people for the sake of His great Name for Hashem has sworn to make you for a people unto Him.”
(1 Samuel 12:20–22)

And there it is again, shining up from a set of MacDonald’s poems about our failure:

But now the Spirit and I are one in this—
My hunger now is after righteousness
My spirit hopes in God to set me free
From the low self loathed of the higher me.
Great elder brother of my second birth,
Dear o’er all names but one, in heaven or earth,
Teach me all day to love eternally.
Diary of an Old Soul, June 20 entry)

After all that slavery to ourselves, all that failure and rebellion, God lets us know that He accepts us as we are, because, as MacDonald points out, “To thee, the reconciler, the one real, In whom alone the would be and the is are met.” (Diary of an Old Soul, June 18th entry). What a relief to know that we are not forgotten or forsaken.

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