Parsha Korach – Conspiracy Theory

Today is Erev Shabbat once again and it is time for my weekly interpretation of our parsha. Last week, parsha Shelach, we saw the Jewish nation appearing to lose faith in Hashems promise. The slanderous report of the meraglim{spies} caused all the Israelites to weep inside.

Of course Hashem was very upset and he demonstrated this anger by promising that all the adults {over 20} would perish in the midbar{desert}. Moshe was very adept in his prayers and prevented the entire people from being instantly wiped out. This was the second time Moshe davened {prayed} for B’nai Yisroel’s wellbeing, the first being after the incident of the Chet HaEigel{sin of the golden calf} at Mount Sinai.

But even this was not enough for the Jewish people, the special nation which the Torah constantly portrays as an unfaithful wife, as another great leader of the people, a cousin of Moshe even, rose up to challenge Moshe and his stature in the Jewish nation.

The parsha begins:

1. Korah the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi took [himself to one side] along with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, descendants of Reuben. 2. They confronted Moses together with two hundred and fifty men from the children of Israel, chieftains of the congregation, representatives of the assembly, men of repute. 3. They assembled against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “You take too much upon yourselves, for the entire congregation are all holy, and the Lord is in their midst. So why do raise yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?”

Well, that pretty much lays it out on the table there. Korach was a grandson of Levi, the same tribe as Moshe, and he assembled several serial complainers against Moshe {Dathan and Abiram}, and various up-standing men of the entire congregation who numbered 250. This entire MOB came to Moshe and accused him of being so arrogant as to raise himself above the entire Jewish people. Their claim “You take too much upon yourselves, for the entire congregation are all holy, and the L-rd is in their midst. So why do you raise yourselves above the L-rds assembly?”. The basic premise is that every Jew is holy therefore why do they need to listen to Moshe? Isn’t this always the calling of anarchy and disarray? “We are all grownups here, who will tell me what to do?”.

Midrash (Midrash Tanchuma Korach 1, Num. Rabbah 18:2) recounts how Korach attempted to shame Moshe by asking irrelevant Halachic questions. For example he would come with a garment which was entirely dyed in Techlis {the color used for the special string of the Tzit-Tzit} and ask whether it needed a Techlis string. Moshes answer was that such a garment still required the purple string. Korach ridiculed this finding saying that because the entire garment was techlis there was no need for the string. This is a metaphor for the question about why a holy people like the Jews need someone like Moshe.

Torah continues:

4. Moses heard and fell on his face. 5. He spoke to Korah and to all his company, saying, “In the morning, the Lord will make known who is His, and who is holy, and He will draw [them] near to Him, and the one He chooses, He will draw near to Him. 6. Do this, Korah and his company: Take for yourselves censers. 7. Place fire into them and put incense upon them before the Lord tomorrow, and the man whom the Lord chooses he is the holy one; you have taken too much upon yourselves, sons of Levi.”

So Moshe takes up Korachs challenge and to show the people who Hashem finds holier they will both take incense offerings. Whichever offering is accepted will have the priesthood {Kohanim}. Aaron and his descendants are the priests in the Children of Israel and they were responsible for the incense offering. What did Moshe mean when he said “you have taken too much upon yourselves, sons of Levi.”? Torah continues:

8. Moses said to Korah, “Please listen, sons of Levi. 9. Is it not enough that the God of Israel has distinguished you from the congregation of Israel to draw you near to Him, to perform the service in the Mishkan of the Lord and to stand before the congregation to minister to them? 10. He drew you near, and all your brothers, the sons of Levi with you, and now you seek the kehunah as well?11. Therefore, you and your entire company who are assembled are against the Lord, for what is Aaron that you should complain against him?”

Moshe is saying to them, “You are Levites, you already have a function in the holy tabernacle. Why do you also need the job of the Kohen, which is the job of Aarons descendants?” The Levites are the guardians and the carriers of the movable house of worship, the tent of meeting, the Mishkan. We learn that we should be happy with our function in the world and not idealize or covet that which we dont have. One of the reasons the Jewish people were {and are} so great is that we can all be different yet we work together. Hashem himself has ordained that the Levites have one function and the Kohens have another function, and the Bnai Yisroel have another function. So Korach and company “are against the L-rd”.

Korach was appealing to the peoples loss in trust in Moshe as a result of the punishment for the spies. They were told of the curse which they brought on themselves and as a result they came to resent Moshes leadership. In some ways it is to be expected because humans are not supposed to be perfect and complaint and conspiracy may be a part of human nature.

So this is what happens:

18. So each man took his censer, and they put fire upon it and placed incense upon it, and they stood at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting with Moses and Aaron.
19. Korah assembled all the congregation against them at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord appeared before the entire congregation. 20. The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron saying, 21. “Dissociate yourselves from this congregation, and I will consume them in an instant. 22. They fell on their faces and said, “O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, if one man sins, shall You be angry with the whole congregation?” 23. The Lord spoke to Moses saying, 24. “Speak to the congregation saying, ‘Withdraw from the dwelling of Korah, Dathan and Abiram.'” 25. Moses arose and went to Dathan and Abiram, and the elders of Israel followed him. 26. He spoke to the congregation saying, “Please get away from the tents of these wicked men, and do not touch anything of theirs, lest you perish because of all their sins.”

So now it is clear that Hashem intends to wipe out Korach and his entire evil assembly. Moshe goes around to warn everyone to stay away from the Korach rebellion. It continues:

27. So they withdrew from around the dwelling of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, and Dathan and Abiram went out standing upright at the entrance of their tents together with their wives, their children, and their infants. 28. Moses said, “With this you shall know that the Lord sent me to do all these deeds, for I did not devise them myself. 29. If these men die as all men die and the fate of all men will be visited upon them, then the Lord has not sent me. 30. But if the Lord creates a creation, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them and all that is theirs, and they descend alive into the grave, you will know that these men have provoked the Lord.” 31. As soon as he finished speaking all these words, the earth beneath them split open. 32. The earth beneath them opened its mouth and swallowed them and their houses, and all the men who were with Korah and all the property. 33. They, and all they possessed, descended alive into the grave; the earth covered them up, and they were lost to the assembly.

WOW! This is a case of speedy justice. The earth opened up its mouth and swallowed them and all that is theirs {meaning their wives and children and all their worldly possessions}. We consider the earth swallowing Korach as one of the great miracles which Hashem created {Mid. Tanchuma Korach, Sanh. 110a}.

So now Hashem gives Moshe the command that only a Kohen can bring an incense offering in the Mishkan. Also the censers of Korachs peoples should be flattened and overlaid on the altar. Parsha continues:

1. The Lord spoke to Moses saying: 2. Say to Eleazar the son of Aaron the kohen that he should pick up the censers from the burned area (but throw the fire away), because they have become sanctified, 3. the censers of these who sinned at the cost of their lives, and they shall make them into flattened out plates as an overlay for the altar, for they brought them before the Lord, and have [therefore] become sanctified, and they shall be as a reminder for the children of Israel. 4. So Eleazar the kohen took the copper censers which the fire victims had brought, and they hammered them out as an overlay for the altar, 5. as a reminder for the children of Israel, so that no outsider, who is not of the seed of Aaron, shall approach to burn incense before the Lord, so as not to be like Korah and his company, as the Lord spoke regarding him through the hand of Moses. 6. The following day, the entire congregation of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron saying, “You have killed the people of the Lord.” 7. It came to pass while the congregation were assembled against Moses and Aaron, that they turned to the Tent of Meeting, and behold, the cloud had covered it, and the glory of the Lord appeared.

So now the people were accusing Moshe of killing Korachs conspiracy. So now Hashem was even more upset, he unleashed a plague on the people.

8. Moses and Aaron came to the front of the Tent of Meeting. 9. The Lord spoke to Moses saying: 10. Stand aside from this congregation, and I shall consume them in an instant.” They fell on their faces. 11. Moses said to Aaron, “Take the censer and put fire from the altar top into it. Then take it quickly to the congregation and atone for them, for wrath has gone forth from the Lord, and the plague has begun.”

Moshe and Aaron once again save the people by standing up for what they believe in, they stand up for the people even against the heavenly angels. Parsha continues:

12. Aaron took [it], just as Moses had said, and he ran into the midst of the assembly, and behold, the plague had begun among the people. He placed the incense on it and atoned for the people. 13. He stood between the dead and the living, and the plague ceased. 14. The number of dead in the plague was fourteen thousand, seven hundred, besides those who died because of the matter of Korah. 15. Aaron returned to Moses at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and the plague was checked.

Why were the people saved with Aarons incense? There are many commentaries which try to explain this. One which I understand is that because the Israelites were slandering the Incense, saying it was poison and that it killed Nadab and Avihu {Aarons sons}, that through it 250 Jews were burned, etc. Hashem said “You will see that it will stop the plague, and it is sin that caused their deaths” {according to Midrash Aggadah}. Now to show that Aaron and his house should be Kohen, the test of the staffs begins:

16. The Lord said to Moses saying: 17. Speak to the children and take from them a staff for each father’s house from all the chieftains according to their fathers’ houses; [a total of] twelve staffs, and inscribe each man’s name on his staff. 18. Inscribe Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi, for there is [only] one staff for the head of their fathers’ house. 19. You shall place the staffs in the Tent of Meeting before [the [Ark of] the Testimony where I commune with you. 20. The staff of the man whom I will choose will blossom, and I will calm down [turning away] from Myself the complaints of the children of Israel which they are complaining against you. 21. Moses spoke to the children of Israel, and all their chieftains gave him a staff for each chieftain according to their fathers’ houses, [a total of] twelve staffs, and Aaron’s staff was amidst their staffs. 22. Moses placed the staffs before the Lord in the Tent of the Testimony. 23. And on the following day Moses came to the Tent of Testimony, and behold, Aaron’s staff for the house of Levi had blossomed! It gave forth blossoms, sprouted buds, and produced ripe almonds. 24. Moses took out all the staffs from before the Lord, to the children of Israel; they saw and they took, each man his staff. 25. The Lord said to Moses: Put Aaron’s staff back in front of the Testimony as a keepsake [and] a sign for rebellious ones. Then their complaints against Me will end and they will not die. 26. Moses did so. He did just as the Lord had commanded him.

Once again divine proof of Aarons role as Kohen. The rest of the parsha deals with the rules of offerings. For example:

9. These shall be yours from the holiest of holies, from the fire: all their offerings, their meal-offerings, their sin-offerings, their guilt-offerings, [and] what they return to Me; they shall be holy of holies to you and to your sons. 10. You shall eat it in the holiest of places. Any male may eat of it; it shall be holy to you. 11. This shall be yours what is set aside for their gifts from all the wavings of the children of Israel; I have given them to you, and to your sons and to your daughters with you, as an eternal portion. Any [ritually] clean member of your household may eat it. 12. The choice of the oil and the choice of the wine and grain, the first of which they give to the Lord, to you I have given them. 13. The first fruit of all that grows in their land, which they shall bring to the Lord shall be yours; any [ritually] clean member of your household may eat of it.

In closing I would like to just say that I hope that one day we may learn how to avoid listening to that little voice inside which conspires against us and our best interests. Korach and his buddies were very fine men and it is almost inconceivable that they would fall so low, and bring so many others to fall that low. It is always wise to not listen to an evil report and to give others the benefit of the doubt.

Have a great Shabbos,

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2 Responses to Parsha Korach – Conspiracy Theory

  1. avideditor says:

    Charles from LGF is like Korah trying to lead people to evil conclusions in the aspect of believing in Hashem.

  2. Pingback: Machlokes « muman613 Torah Wisdom

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