Society, Religion and Spirituality in Judaism

Society, religion and spirituality in Judaism are rudimental. This is illustrated by three, apparently randomly selected incidents in the Book of Bemidbar. Although the three incidents are negative and led to dire consequences for our people to this day, they provide vital lessons to us.

The Star of David representative of society, religion and spirituality Judaism

Events in the Torah defining Society, Religion and Spirituality in Judaism

There are three parshes in the book of Bamidbar that relate three rebellions of the Jewish people against Hashem and Moshe after the giving of the Torah; Shlach, Korach and Balak.

Shlach deals with the spies sent into Israel to check out the land before they entered. Ten spies came back with a negative and terrifying report and the people, instead of listening to Moshe and the two good spies, believed the negative reports, and cried all night resulting in the day (Tisha B’Av) becoming the saddest day of the year for us.

The second is the story of Korach who set out to challenge Moshe’s selected tribal leadership and appointment of Aharon as the Kohein Gadol (High Priest.) Moshe davened (prayed) that their meta -natural deaths should be a proof that he was acting on the word of Hashem. The earth opened its mouth (special creation from the 6 days of creation) and they were swallowed by it.

Finally, in Parshas Balak, the Torah relates the incident of Zimri who set out to publically challenge the foundations of Torah as taught by Moshe by having relations with a Midianite woman in public.

Applying a deeper level of study, one can see that these 3 incidents represent the 3 primary areas of endeavour in this world:

  1. Bein adam leMakom – between man and God (religious)
  2. Bein adam lechavero – between man and his fellow (society)
  3. Bein adam leatzmo – between man and self (spiritual)

The Mishna in Pirkei Avot says: Rebbi Elazar Hakafar omer: hakina vehataaveh vehakavod motziin es haadam min haolam – jealousy, physical desire and honour take a person out of the world. 

The spies were leaders in the desert but knew that they would lose their position on entering Israel. This tainted their views and they found bad in all they saw about the land. This was a deficiency relating to kavod (honour) and a shortcoming in bein adam leMakom, religious - trust in, reliance on and deference to Hashem.

Korach started off vying for leadership of the tribe of Levi and eventually challenging for the position of Kohen gadol. He was overcome with jealousy of the rightful position of others. This was a shortcoming in bein adam lechaveiro, interpersonal (societal.)

Zimri was tainted by his own sexual desires through which he purported to be making a socio-religious statement. This was a shortcoming in bein adam leatzmo, intrapersonal (spiritual.)

These three events are thus published in the Torah, in the book dealing with the assimilation of Torah by the Jewish people after Har Sinai (Mount Sinai) as representative of society, religion and spirituality, the three primary spheres of Judaism. 

At the conclusion of each of the parshes, the Torah prescribes the antidote correlating to each defect. At the end of Shlach we learn about korbanos (offerings to Hashem,) the ultimate tool (short of dying for the sake of heaven,) for submitting to the Kingdom of Heaven. Parshas Korah concludes with laws of matnas kahuna (obligatory gifts to the kohanim,) an assertion of the rights of others over self, addressing the shortcoming of jealousy. Finally parshas Balak ends with the extra-judicial execution of Zimri by Pinchas Ben Elazar Ben Aharon Hakohen showing us the only antidote to being dragged by physical desires and that is to eradicate the desire by purifying one’s thoughts and intentions to the level of Pinchas who acted solely for the sake of heaven.

So we see three Torah events that on the surfaces appear to be random historical accounts, but are actually paradigms of instruction in society, religion and spirituality in Judaism.


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