Parashat Korach / פרשת קורח (Numbers 16:1-18:32; 1 Samuel 11:14–12:22)
Korach ben Yitzchar; Dathan and Aviram, sons of Eliab; On ben Peleth, and two hundred and fifty of the leaders of Israel, rebelled against Moses and Aaron, protesting against their God-given authority. Moses rebuked Korach, pointing out that YHWH had singled out the Levites for His own reasons – and warned him against continuing his rebellion. However, when they continued with their complaining, Moses stressed the fact that he personally had not profited because of his leadership. He then asked the agitators to appear before the Tabernacle, stating that YHWH would render a decision in the controversy; and that if Korach were wrong, the earth would open and swallow him and his followers. And so it came to pass, – and Korach, his men, and all their possessions were swallowed up.
Even after this divine event, many of the people continued to murmur against Moses and Aharon, declaring that it was their intention to destroy the whole congregation. YHWH’s anger was manifested by a plague which beset the Israelites – and many thousands perished.
Then, at Elohim’s command, Moses took a staff from each tribe – and inscribed their names thereon. In the morning, the staff of Levi, which had Aharon’s name inscribed on it – was budding with blossoms, and yielded ripe almonds. YHWH then reiterated His statement that the Kohanim were to be the holy ones in charge of the sanctuary and that they were to be assisted by the Levites, that all the offerings were to belong to the Kohanim: the laws of Terumah (heave-offering); Bikurim (first-fruits); Cherem (consecrated items); B’Chorot (first-born and redemption). The Levites were to receive the tithe – and they were to have no inheritance in the land of Israel – for theirs was the duty of the Tabernacle. The Levites were also to give a tithe of their tithe as well as Terumah; and they were cautioned to be scrupulous about these matters – so as not to profane the sanctity of the offerings of Israel.
“That he may not become like Korach and his followers…” The human being is an emotional creature. He is easily swayed in his opinions, and influenced in his actions. We follow the crowd – heeding the words of demagogues and inciters to rebellion, not taking the trouble to ascertain if the cause is just. A group of people is a dangerous instrument in the hands of an individual who knows how to appeal to a mob-psychology. We can see this even today when an individual who proudly claims leadership over a particular group of brethren who, instead of presenting to the brethren even the basic points of Torah, he instead teaches them to develop the spirit of skepticism and doubt about Torah, the origins of the assembly of Elohim’s Torah observant people, its history and teaches them to murmur and ask all sorts of questions about the leadership. In doing so, the individual and the group become rebellious of divinely ordained appointments within YHWH’s assembly. Such acts are not only directly antithetical to the doctrines of the Torah Covenant – but certainly are dominant factors in creating a serious breach in the peace of the brethren everywhere.
Rebellion and revolution which are inspired by ethical motives, and which are carried out int he same fashion, are sometimes commendable. Our Bible warns us, however, against he opposite method – “You shall not follow the multitude for evil.” The theory of the “majority rules” is paramount in Torah Covenant jurisprudence – but only in the event the aim or intention is for good – and not for evil.
Some are ever eager to follow a new fat – to adopt innovations – to discard and despise old traditions. The laws of our Torah are as up-to-date and as modern as our latest inventions or discoveries. In fact, some of the principles underlying our statutes and regulations are so sublime as to make present-day social theories and legislation seem antiquated. But some have failed to realize this – blinded by their apparent modern day advancement from the so-called unenlightened days of our Torah and Halacha. Some have said, “These laws were good for our ancestors, but modern conditions require drastic revision.” Some among the brethren appear to have chosen a law here, a custom there – and suit their fancy as to his selection of what he finds convenient or expedient to retain. Such a man’s Torah observance gradually loses more with each succeeding generation.
We recently read how Nadab and Avihu, the sons of Aharon, rebelled against tradition and wanted to depose Moses and Aharon. And today we are given the story of Korach and his rebellion – a movement which had the identical aim in view.
Korach gathered all the dissatisfied or dissenting members of the congregation – and in the guise of remedying the situation, perverted the teaching of Moses to suit his purposes. He presented his followers with a grievance against Moses and Aaron – purporting to demonstrate that they were benefiting by falsifying God’s instructions. And Moses was quick to defend himself from this calumny.
It is easy to fabricate a falsehood – and to make it a platform for dissension. That was what Korach did. And his followers were not only misled – they wanted to believe the distorted statements of their leader. So – the Torah cautions us – “do not be like Korach and his followers.” Ascertain the truth of an assertion – and prove it to be well-grounded, before you justify it, and before you condemn those whom it attacks.
It is much easier to tear down and destroy, than to build and strengthen. A single transgressions becomes habitual, and finally leads to moral and spiritual decay. Even slight transgressions eventually lead us to abandon completely all restraints – and to lose every vestige of our faith and practice. Beware of the demagogues; beware of those who preach doctrines at variance with the teachings that have been handed down to us from God Himself – in order that we “may not be like Korach and his followers.”
(Adapted by Rabbi Saul Katz from You That Thirst, Torah Commentaries 1940)