April 14, 2024
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Korach: How Green Is My Mishkan

The blue bins and buckets appeared in the Nachmanides School one June morning as if they materialized, well, out of the blue. One day the students were throwing their garbage into the regular trash cans, and the next day, there were recycling containers everywhere. The lunchroom had separate containers for plas­tic, glass, and aluminum. The library had bins for computer paper and newspaper. The hall­ways were lined with large, blue plastic buck­ets. It was a recycling revolution.

Everyone thought it was an excellent idea. The main question was: Who did it? There had been no school board of directors meeting to discuss a proposition for creating an amend­ment to form a subcommittee in favor of the potential for a recycling initiative. No staff meeting had occurred where analysis was rec­ommended for the process to better augment an atmosphere for the educational objective of the ecological awareness for a greener school. It just happened.

Rabbi Rosenthal, the principal of the Nach­manides School, called an emergency staff meeting to bring the educators up to speed. All the teachers brought brown bag lunches to the staff lounge, preferably without styrofoam.

“I’m glad you could all make it on such short notice,” Rabbi Rosenthal said. “I realize this is a bit sudden, but I think the recycling program is a good idea for the school.”

Doris Shapiro raised her hand in an instant (teachers always raise their hands when they want to be called on—would you expect an­ything less?). She was a fourth grade English teacher at Nachmanides and had been for ten years. Her personal authority both in the class­room and out made everyone consider Doris the unofficial dean of the teaching staff.

“Yes Doris, what can I help you with?”

“Rabbi, where did this come from?” Do­ris asked in her deep, stentorian school teach­er voice. “Who created this recycling program? That’s what I’d like to know.”

“It was me,” Rabbi Rosenthal said. “I’m re­sponsible.”

Everyone gasped.

“What’s the big deal?” Rabbi Rosenthal asked.

“First of all,” Doris said, “what you meant to say was ‘it was I.’”

The groan was as loud as the former gasp.

“Second of all,” Doris continued, “Rabbi, you’re not exactly the poster child for environ­mental consciousness.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Well, you drive a 1997 Lincoln Continen­tal,” Rabbi Reuven Rabinowitz, the sixth grade social studies teacher said, “which gets, what, ten gallons to the mile?”

“You use styrofoam cups like they’re a dime a dozen,” Adelle Barishansky, the junior high school science teacher said.

“You run the air conditioning in your office like you live on a glacier,” Mark Morrison, the gym teacher said.

“I’ve never seen you shut off a light as long as I’ve known you,” Rabbi Baruch Aranoff, the seventh grade limudei kodesh teacher said. “And we go back a long way.”

“Face it, Rabbi,” Doris said. “Al Gore you’re not.”

“Nu? Nobody’s perfect.”

“O.K., Reuven Rabinowitz said, “what gives?”

“I’m a new man,” Rabbi Rosenthal said. “You might say I’m—”

“Renewed? Rejuvenated? Recycled?” Doris Shapiro speculated.

“Doris, can’t I just finish my own sentenc­es occasionally? I was going to say I’m turning over a new leaf.”

Doris smiled sheepishly and stopped talk­ing.

“Actually, I was inspired to recycle by this week’s parsha,” Rabbi Rosenthal said.

All the teachers stared at Rabbi Rosenthal in anticipation of his explanation. But the Rabbi paused for a long time before he began speak­ing. Silence at one of his staff meetings was so rare, and he wanted to savor it. Finally, he be­gan.

“In this week’s parsha, Korach and his re­bellious group try to take over the kehunah, the priesthood, from Aharon and his descend­ants. As a test, Moshe Rabeinu has them take their machtot, their fire pans, and offer incense to Hashem to see if God accepts their sacrifice more than Aharon’s. Of course, the story goes badly, and the 250 men offering the ketoret, the incense, were consumed by a divine flame.

“After it’s all over, Hashem commands Moshe to have Aharon’s son Elazar take the fire pans ve’asu otam riku’ei pachim tsipuy lamizbeyach, let them be made into beaten plates for a covering for the altar.

“At first, the whole issue seems strange. As the Ramban points out, why should those copper fire pans be holy? They were used to offer up strange incense, foreign to the Mishkan. In the end, the Ramban ex­plains, Hashem made the fire pans holy to serve as a sign for the Jewish people to re­spect the validity of the kohanim.”

“I don’t get it,” Doris said. “How does that support a recycling program?”

“God took an object of sin from an in­appropriate sacrifice and changed it into something kadosh, holy, for all time. That has to be the ultimate demonstration of re­cycling. So if He can change something so bad into something good, surely we can change our plastic and our paper into a re­newable resource.”

“I like it,” Adelle Barishansky said. “That works for me.’

The staff murmured in general agreement.

“So Rabbi, does this mean you’ll be trad­ing in your Lincoln for a hybrid car?” Mark Morrison asked.

“One step at a time, Mark. One step at a time,” the Rabbi answered.

By Larry Stiefel

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