Legacy of the Rosenbergs

Remember the Rosenbergs? While working on an estate matter, I noticed a bequest to the Rosenberg Fund. The contact person’s name was Meeropol.  Robert Meeropol created the Rosenberg Fund for Children, a public foundation named in honor of his parents, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. As you may recall, the United States Government executed the Rosenbergs for conspiracy to commit espionage during the Cold War. Their sons’ charitable work creates a different sort of Rosenberg legacy.

Robert described the fund he runs as his “constructive revenge.” The fund “grants aid to children in the U.S. whose parents are targeted, progressive activists” and to “assist youth who themselves have been targeted as a result of their progressive activities.” The Rosenbergs might have left a legacy of trauma. Their son embarked on a legacy of healing.

I thought of this charity when reading Parshat Pinchas. During a census in preparation for war, the Torah reminds us of the sons of leaders of the Korach rebellion. Korach, Datan, and others who agitated against Moses and Aaron went down to Sheol as they were swallowed up in the earth — “and they became an example. The sons of Korah, however, did not die.”

The sons of Korah did not die. They thrived. They were also prolific authors of eleven psalms. Twice in the book of Chronicles, we read about the Korahites. 1 Chronicles 9:19 reports that “the Korahites were in charge of the work of the service, guards of the threshold of the Tent; their fathers had been guards of the entrance to the camp of the LORD.” The descendants of the rebel leader remained faithful in their service to God.

The sons of Korah lived their lives within the legacy of their father.  As a contretemps to his misdeeds, they dedicated themselves to holy work. In a startling verse from Psalm 49, they anticipate a better death than their father’s.  “But God will redeem my life from the clutches of Sheol, for He will take me.”

Korach, Meeropol’s parents transgressed in life and met an ignoble death. Yet torah teaches that legacy remains open to redemption.  With his charitable endeavors, Robert Meeropol reclaimed virtuousness from a tragic childhood. This example shows that inspiration to improve the world can come from the depths of heartbreak. How much easier it should be for the rest of us to commit to tikkun olam if our childhoods were less dramatic than the families of Korach or the Rosenbergs.

Rabbi Evan Krame