Korach said to Moses, “all the community are holy, all of them, and HASHEM is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the LORD’s congregation?” (Numbers 16:3). Moses’ response is to fall on his face and declare that God will show them who is holy and who isn’t; who is chosen and who isn’t. The story ends as we might expect - Moses is shown to be the true leader of the Israelites and Korach and his band of rebels are swallowed by the earth.
Korach clearly overreached. Moses says as much to him just a few verses later, “Is it not enough for you that the God of Israel has set you apart from the community of Israel and given you access to the Divine, to perform the duties of the HASHEM’s Tabernacle and to minister to the community and serve them? Now that God has advanced you and all your fellow Levites with you, do you seek the priesthood too?” (Numbers 16:9-10) Korach already had a place of honor within the people of Israel but he still felt under the shadow of Moses and sought to rectify what he perceived as an injustice. His approach was flawed but anyone who has only been cast in the chorus and never in the lead role can relate to Korach’s frustration.
I have, more often than not, ended up in lead roles. As a rabbi and a musician I find myself center stage, which means that there are others that I am upstaging. I don’t mean to and it certainly isn’t purposeful but if I put myself in their shoes for a moment I can imagine feeling “less-than.”
This has been a particularly difficult challenge for my daughters. Because of my work “Rabbi Dad” has always been right down front leading services, performing on stage, teaching or leading in their schools. Sometimes it is a source of pride (though they rarely admit it) but sometimes it is also a source of consternation. How can they find themselves and become their own star if I’m always in the way?
My eldest, Dalia just turned 18 and is heading off to the University of Miami in the fall. Since Dalia has been around the longest she’s probably had it the worst. For her college essay she reflected on this struggle and wrote in a much more beautiful way than I ever could. Here are her words:
I once was just another face in the audience, and then I found my own stage.
My father has always played a powerful and prominent role in my community. He is the “Rock and Roll Rabbi.” Being clergy, a musician, and a spiritual leader, my father had a clear identity, but I was simply his daughter -“Rabbi David’s daughter”. I have grown up in my Dad’s shadow, both literally and physically. Besides being almost a spitting image of him, I embody extremely similar principles and traits. Because of this, growing up I felt a lack of my own identity, but this did not hold me back. In fact, it paved the path for my journey toward self-recognition.
Through maturation, my role in life shifted. As a child, it was ideal having someone to look up to, and to model myself after. This person was my father. But, as I grew up I felt the urge to step out of his shadow, off of his stage, and onto my own. I was tired of being an observer, an appendage, and I was ready to become myself, a performer. I wasn’t watching the show anymore, I was putting it on.
Feeling as if I always belonged to my Dad left me feeling indistinct, undefined. So, I grew. I took on challenges that separated me from my father’s identity. I reached out of my comfort zone, and stepped away from all that I knew, from the crowd and from the footlights. I went looking for a stage of my own. I joined the cheerleading team, the cross-country team, the soccer team, the school musical, the yearbook, and I founded the Spanish Club. I built upon my dancing, after 11 years of practice. I forged my own path,
I stepped onto my own stage. Then I spent five weeks in Spain, immersed in the language and culture, living with a host family: a traditional, Catholic family. I found myself in an alternate world. Despite our different backgrounds, I brought my skills into their culture, and was able to adapt to their language, practice, and routine. I taught them about my religion, the sports I play, the leadership roles I have, my family, my interests, my culture. I spoke only Spanish for five weeks. I expanded on the skills that my father taught me; I found a common humanity between our two worlds, bringing mine to theirs. I am supremely adaptable.
Placing myself into someone else’s world forced me to finally identify myself, and stop living vicariously through my father. I overcame adversity. I took on a challenge, and lept over obstacles. My perspective changed in that I no longer was a part of my father, his duties or his performances- I grew to see the world, through different cultures, as a place where I could thrive and begin my own journey.
As I’ve matured, I have been challenged to find my own identity within the tradition and community of my father’s calling. I found a new way of looking at the role I play. In stepping out of his shadow, I still carry parts of it with me. Because of my experiences as a religious leader’s daughter, I have learned empathy, tolerance, and respect.
I was dependent on the shadow that surrounded me, and the stage that I was born on. I now know that I am capable of moving onto a new one. Capable of changing, of learning, of recognizing my true self. From the experiences that I have, the different cultures that I have practiced, and the performances that I have observed, I recognize the rich background that I carry with me.
My father’s role unwillingly forced me to change and to grow. I now stand on my own, yet I carry my roots.
Here I am: proud of my past, prepared for my future, and ready for the next stage.
I am so proud of my beautiful, rebellious daughter.