This week’s parasha, Korach, describes the rebellion instigated by Moses’ Levite cousin Korach. Korach’s main accusation was against Aaron and the Kohanim: why did they tale all the priestly services for themselves and left nothing for the lay Israelite? Had not God stated that all of Israel will be a holy nation of kohanim? (Exodus 19:6) Why did only a small group of people (Aaron and his descendants) suddenly become kohanim? His argument was actually a valid one, and Rashi (on Numbers 16:6) records that Moses even agreed with Korach to some extent, and said that he too wishes that all of Israel could be priests! Why weren’t they?
Abraham Lincoln is generally considered the greatest president in American history. This is a view held not only by American citizens: a recent poll of nearly 200 political scientists also ranked Lincoln as America’s greatest president. Indeed, Lincoln distinguishes himself from other presidents in many ways. One of these ways is that he is the only president in American history to not be a member of any church.
Although his family was officially Baptist on paper, Lincoln himself was never baptized. He often spoke disparagingly of Christianity, but toned it down when he realized how much it hurt his chances for the presidency. In all of his celebrated speeches, he never once invoked the name of Jesus. This has led many to suggest that Lincoln was an atheist. Yet, he did speak of God many times, and did write that “I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures”.
The term “Scriptures” is quite vague, and might very well refer only to the Tanakh, ie. the “Old Testament”. This may be all the more likely when we keep in mind how he spoke negatively of Christianity, avoided mentioning Jesus, but did speak of God regularly (and that it was “God’s will” to abolish slavery). Dr. Yvette Alt Miller writes:
According to historian Jonathan Sarna, Lincoln quoted from the Old Testament much more often than from the New Testament. In his surviving letters, Lincoln mentions God over 420 times, yet remarkably never refers directly to Jesus.
So, what if Lincoln was secretly Jewish?
This week’s parasha, Shlach, is primarily concerned with the Sin of the Spies. At the end of the parasha, we read the commandment to wear tzitzit on the corners of our clothes:
Speak to the children of Israel and you shall say to them that they shall make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations, and they shall affix a thread of blue on the fringe of each corner. This shall be fringes for you, and when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of God to perform them, and you shall not wander after your hearts and after your eyes after which you are going astray. So that you shall remember and perform all My commandments and you shall be holy to your God. (Numbers 15:38-40)
The passage above states that the purpose of tzitzit is to remind us of God’s commandments. The Torah states that people fall to sin because they follow after their evil inclination—residing in the heart—which itself follows after the eyes. The eyes see and stimulate the temptation inside the heart, and then the entire body succumbs. As an antidote to straying eyes, when we look at tzitzit we remember God’s mitzvot, and this should save us from sin. Rashi famously comments that the word “tzitzit” (ציצית) has a gematria of 600, and when adding the five knots and eight strings on each fringe, one gets 613 to represent the 613 commandments of the Torah.
The Talmud (Menachot 44a) recounts a story of a man who once went out of his way to sleep with a certain beautiful harlot. When it came time to undress, his tzitzit “struck him in the face”. He saw the fringes and remembered God, and held himself back from sin. The harlot was so impressed (as none was ever able to restrain himself from her) that she abandoned her whole world and her great wealth and went to study in the academy of Rabbi Chiya. She ended up converting to Judaism, and marrying that man. The Talmud uses this story both to illustrate the power of tzitzit, and also to show that “There is not a single precept in the Torah, even the lightest, whose reward is not enjoyed in this world.”