Rabbi Andrew Shaw
Chief Executive, Mizrachi UK
It was so close.
The beginning of hopefully an epic battle between two old enemies over the summer.
I am of course talking about the 1st Ashes test, which concluded on Tuesday with unfortunately a thrilling 2 wicket win for the Aussies!
This was not the first close result in Test match cricket, but the postmortems were certainly unique. No one was really talking about the normal stuff, no, the big talking point was whether Bazball cost England the game.
To those who have no idea what I am talking about, let me explain.
Bazball is an informal cricketing term that refers to the new style of play of the England national cricket team in Test Cricket (red-ball) matches, developed in the team after the appointments of Brendon McCullum (whose nickname is ‘Baz’) as Test cricket head coach and Ben Stokes as England Test cricket captain in May 2022. The Bazball style and mindset is said to have an emphasis on taking positive decisions in attack and defence, whether batting or in the field.
So, what was the debate, whether or not, the loyalty to playing this entertaining type of cricket had been their downfall.
The truth is, this new style had enabled England to have won 12 out of their last 13 matches and to almost win this one, which would normally have been a draw.
The question, as always, is what has this got to do with Judaism and Korach? You will not be surprised – a lot!
Let us start with the Parasha.
Parshat Korach is known as the ‘parsha of machloket (argument)’ in Pirkei Avot. Yet in numerous accounts of challenges to Moshe (14:4), (20:10), Moshe shows anger, frustration and even asks to die, yet this is the one that stands out. The question is why?
Why also does Mishnah in Sanhedrin state – Korach v adto ein chelek olam habah – Korach and his company have no portion in the world to come. Why here and not about any of the other serious oppositions to Moshe?
Final question. In all other episodes Moshe doesn’t fight back, yes, he speaks out to defend Hashem but not in the personal way he did with Korach. Why?
The answer is that this challenge was the ultimate one and could have destroyed the entire purpose of Yetziat Mitzraim and the future of Judaism. Korach was undermining the basic principle that the Divine presence was speaking through Moshe.
Korach’s idea of the 10 commandments was in essence, we all heard it, we can interpret it, thank you. He says ‘All community are holy’ (16:3), he wants to seemingly change the way the mesorah works, if successful the fundamental basis of Judaism would be crippled.
This aspect of revelation is so crucial. Three of the 13 principles of faith of the Rambam, talk about this essential concept.
Korach has surfaced again and again in our history. Challenging the mesorah and the fundamentals of Torah.
Samuel Holdheim in the 19th century, one of the early leaders of Reform said, ‘The rabbis of the Talmud legislated for their time, and for their time they were right, I am making rules for my time and for my time I am right.’
This idea is seemingly based on the verse brought down in Gemara Rosh Hashanah
And it further says: “And you shall come to the priests, the Levites, and to the judge who shall be in those days – shofet b yamav” (Deuteronomy 17:9).
The Shofet b yamav idea is not the idea that Holdheim was saying, it is explained by Rav Hirsch as understanding the application of Torah for each generation, not that the Torah can be changed, that the mesorah is no longer applicable. Rav Hirsch saw himself, similar to Moshe, fighting similar ideological arguments in Germany against the Reform movement in the 19th century about the Divinity of the Torah and the Mesorah of Judaism.
This is why Moshe responded as he did, for Hashem to prove beyond doubt that He had sent Moshe. It also had to be no ordinary death, had to be something that would protect the Divinity of Torah.
Moshe was not in it for his ego, he would have happily stepped aside but he realised the gravity of this challenge. So, Moshe threw down gauntlet, either Moshes way or Korach’s way, there could be no compromise.
All very nice, but what has all this to do with Bazball?
The challenge is, as shofet b yamav explains to us, to make sure that Judaism is relevant to the times we live in. What Holdheim was attempting to do, was to update Judaism in the 19th century, to make it relevant. Rav Hirsch had a similar aim, but his was to create the relevance without deviating from the mesorah.
Bazball is similar. There is a need to make Test cricket more exciting, more entertaining, more dramatic – without compromising the ‘mesorah’ and the ‘halachot’ of cricket and the beauty of Test Cricket.
There have been other attempts at ‘modernising’ cricket, some of which have actually changed some of the rules of cricket which have angered some of the traditional cricket followers.
We desperately need to make Judaism speak to young people, to make sure women feel included, to use technology where appropriate to inspire and educate. However, we must do this, as Rav Hirsch did, without compromising the Torah.
We are off on Monday to Bournemouth to perform Dreams of a Nation, our first show since covid. Dreams of a Nation is using music, images, movies and words to inspire and educate. To make the miraculous story of the Jewish people come to life.
Then on Thursday, we are off to Manchester for the Yehudi finale for King David School, using 6th form role models to reach out to our children to once again inspire and educate. To connect a generation to authentic Torah Judaism.
And then on Wednesday, it will be the 2nd test. If you are going to watch, you will hopefully see an England victory, as well as Bazball in action. Where we can marvel at the attempt of Bazball to make Test Cricket come alive to a new generation, as one of our Mizrachi team said to me this week ‘even my young brother is interested now’.
We can also the learn the lessons of how Bazball and Torah are linked, both trying to connect to an exciting, relevant product which for us means, connecting with a meaningful, engaging Orthodox Judaism which hopefully brings us ever closer to Torah and Hashem.
Even the venue of this week’s Test match hints at the theme.