Commentary on Parashat Korach, Numbers 16:1 - 18:32
Now, Korach, a Levite, along with two sons of Eliab, decided to rise up against Moses with the support of 250 community leaders. They combined against Moses and Aaron, saying “You’ve gone too far. Why do you raise yourself up above us?”
When Moses heard this, he fell on his face, saying to Korach and his followers, “Come morning, God will make known who God is and who is holy.” Then Moses added, “You have gone too far, sons of Levi. Is it not enough that God has set you apart from the community of Israel by having you perform the duties of the Lord’s Dwelling Place? Will you seek priesthood too? Truly, you rebel against God.”
Moses sent for the two sons of Eliab, but they would not come, saying it was unfair that Moses lord over them and force them to die wandering in the wilderness. Moses then told Korach and his followers to make a priestly fire and give incense offerings to God.
At the entrance to the Tent of Appointed Meeting, Moses and Aaron gathered in front of those rebelling and the rest of the community. Then the Presence of the Lord appeared to the entire assembly. The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Stand back from these rebels that I may destroy them in an instant!” And they fell upon their faces and said, “O God, if one man sins, will you be angry with the whole community?”
God then had Moses say to the community, “Get away from Korach and the sons of Eliab. Move away from these wicked men and touch nothing that belongs to them, lest you be wiped out for all their sins.” So the people moved away from them.
Then Moses said, “By the coming actions, you shall know it is the Lord who sent me and not my own doing. If these men die like all men normally do, then it was not the Lord who sent me. But if the Lord creates a phenomenon so that the ground opens its mouth wide and swallows them and their property and they go to the grave alive, then you will know that these people have provoked God.”
When Moses finished speaking the ground under Korach, the sons of Eliab and their followers split, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their houses and all of their property. They and their belongings went down into the grave alive and the earth closed over them and they vanished.
Then a fire went out from God and it consumed the two hundred and fifty men of Korach’s followers who were offering incense.
The next day, the whole Israelite community railed against Moses and Aaron, saying, “You two have brought death upon the Lord’s people.”
Then the Presence of the Lord appeared. God said to Moses and Aaron, “Remove yourselves from these people so that I may annihilate them in an instant.”
The people fell on their faces with a plague sent by God, and Moses immediately sent Aaron to perform an incense ritual of atonement for the people. Aaron stood between the dead and the living and the plague was checked, even though over fourteen thousand died because of the Korach rebellion.
Then God had Moses get each of the chieftains of the twelve tribes to inscribe a staff. The finished rods were then placed before God at the Tent of Appointed Meeting in front of the Ten Commandments.
God said, “The staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout.” And Aaron’s rod did sprout with blossoms and almonds. Then God told Moses to leave Aaron’s rod in front of the Pact as a sign for the rebellious. “Those who complain of Me must stop complaining lest they die.”
Suddenly, the Israelites were scared that everyone was doomed to perish.
The Lord said to Aaron, “You and your sons shall be the priesthood. You shall take charge of the altar and partake of all the sacred offerings. All that the people bring to God shall be yours, including the best oils and the first fruits, but the first-born male and all the unclean animals must be redeemed according to value. You shall have all these sacred gifts set aside for the Lord, but you shall have no share of the land among the people. I am your portion and your share among the Israelites.”
God continued to Aaron, “The sons of Levi shall have the tithe, the uplifted donation, as their inheritance for the work that they do in the Sanctuary. Thus the Children of Israel shall not approach the Tent of Appointed Meeting and die. You shall take one-tenth of all the tithes as a gift to the Lord. This shall be your contribution. You shall take the choicest portions for the Lord. Do not profane the sacred donations of the Israelites lest you die.”
Parashat Korach Discussion Questions
1. Korah and his followers accuse Moses and Aaron of taking power and prestige for themselves at the expense of the community. Do you think Moses ever sought power? Why or why not?
2. Moses defends himself against these rebels by saying that the Lord will make God’s presence known by how God kills these rebels. Then God opens the ground and swallows people and their possessions? Do you believe God did kill them exactly like this? Can God do anything at any time?
3. Aaron and his sons are again given the command to be the priests in charge of all the sacred offerings. Why was priesthood so important back in Moses’ day? Is the function of a modern day rabbi to also take sacred offerings? How is a rabbi today different than a priest in those days?
Reprinted with permission from Jewish Family & Life!