Thou shalt not engage in binary thinking. This command, though not explicitly articulated in the Torah, is one of the most powerful mitzvot that speaks to me in this moment. Binary thinking places all people into one of two boxes. Binary thinking records every situation as black or white, good or bad, healthy or unhealthy. Binary thinking causes us to create categories and make sure that everything fits into one box or the other. You are my friend and agree with me or you are my enemy when you disagree.
The story of Korach in this week’s Torah portion reflects on the danger of binary thinking in a very dramatic way. One of the foundational elements of binary thinking is that life is a zero-sum game. It comes from a mindset of scarcity versus abundance. Korach felt that the only way for him to be powerful and to lead the community was to take away power from Moses and Aaron. His thinking – there is a finite amount and in order to get it, I must take it away from someone else. The tragedy of this misguided approach to life is that the consequences go far beyond the individual. Not only does Korach meet an untimely end, so too, do hundreds of his followers.
In Israel, right now, something quite unthinkable is happening. Several political parties with wildly different views, beliefs, and platforms have created a coalition and received the presidential mandate to form the new government; a government that moves Bibi Netanyahu out of the prime minister’s seat.
This only becomes possible as the leadership of these parties began to think differently. The greater good was avoiding a fifth election along with removing Netanyahu from office. This new coalition represents a very broad cross section of Israeli society. Until just a few weeks ago, it would be inconceivable that a right-wing Jewish fundamentalist could sit in the same coalition with a conservative Islamist who is a supporter of Hamas.
I am not completely naïve, just incredibly hopeful that this model of complex thinking, in contrast to binary thinking, can bring new light to Israel to tackle the most intransigent of issues with complex thinking founded on an attitude of abundance. I pray that the members of this coalition will see that in order to “win” it does not mean someone else “loses” and that someone else winning does not need to diminish me.
For our congregation, too, we strive to reject binary thinking in every realm. Complex thinking has allowed us to persevere during the pandemic and complex thinking will ensure that as we move to the “next normal” it does not mean business as usual.
We have learned so much during lockdown and as we have slowly begun to re-enter the world. Technology can be an incredible enhancement allowing us to reach people in new and exciting ways – both members and “not-yet-members.” So many have found worship to be much more accessible and creative. Complex thinking will allow us to think deeply about how we can continue to be both online and in person and how we can make even better use of technology to move beyond the boundaries of our physical space.
Korach did not have vision or understanding that would allow him to see the abundance of opportunity in the community for greater leadership. Instead, he held a narrow view of the world as a place of scarcity. In order to be a Jewish community of meaningful connection, we embrace complex thinking that is rooted in the reality of abundance.