Korach | פרשת קרח

Bamidbar 16:1-18:32 [Hebcal] [על-התורה] במדבר טז א-יח לב

Haftarah: Shmuel Alef 11:14-12:22 (all)

[על-התורה] הפטרה: שמואל א יא יד-יב כב (ע”פ כל המנהגים)

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Parashat Korach is dominated by the rebellion of Korach and his followers against the authority of Moshe and Aharon. While Moshe emerges out of the chaos as a strong leader, the events are painful, and the people continue to rebel even after Korach and his followers have met their otherworldly doom. Ultimately, as symbolized the flowering of his staff, it is Aharon’s line that is fated to lead Yisrael. However, powerfully, the very fire-pans of the rebels are hammered into plating for the Mizbeach (altar); they are holy nonetheless, and form a part of the inner courtyard of the Mishkan itself.

Korach’s Rebellion

[Bamidbar 16:1-17]

Korach (קֹרַח)’s lineage is immediately given and thus emphasized in the Mikra: he is the son of Itzhar (יִצְהָר), grandson of Kehat (קְהָת), one of the three sons of Levi himself and the head of the clan of Levites by that name (the Kehatites). The particular duties of each of the three families of Levites have been detailed previously, at the end of Parashat Bamidbar and the beginning of Parashat Naso. Korach allies himself with descendants of Reuven: Datan and Aviram, the sons of Eliav, and On ben Pelet (וְדָתָן וַאֲבִירָם בְּנֵי אֱלִיאָב וְאוֹן בֶּן פֶּלֶת בְּנֵי רְאוּבֵן). He amasses 250 followers, who are, alarmingly, leaders of the community (nesi’ei edah – נְשִׂיאֵי עֵדָה) and men of repute (anshei shem – אַנְשֵׁי שֵׁם).

Their accusation against Moshe and Aharon is challenging:

רַב לָכֶם כִּי כָל הָעֵדָה כֻּלָּם קְדֹשִׁים וּבְתוֹכָם ה’ וּמַדּוּעַ תִּתְנַשְּׂאוּ עַל קְהַל ה’:

You have gotten ahead of yourselves, because the entire community is holy and Hashem is in their midst. Why should you raise yourselves above the congregation of Hashem?

Bemidbar 16:5

Moshe initially falls on his face, but then tells Korach that G-d will select who is to lead and to whom He grants access: tomorrow, they will all bring their fire-pans (machtot, last seen in the hands of Aharon’s ill-fated older sons, Nadav and Avihu in Parashat Shemini). Each will offer fire and incense in his pan and G-d will indicate His selection.

Moshe asks Korach if it is not enough that, as a Levi, he has been set apart for service to G-d; must he also seek the kehuna (priesthood)? Moshe asks Datan and Aviram to speak with him, but they refuse, saying that Moshe has taken them out from a land flowing with milk and honey (i.e., Egypt), only to die in the desert!

The Earth Swallows Up the Rebels

[Bamidbar 16:18-35]

The next day, all 250 of Korach’s followers face off against Moshe and Aharon in front of Ohel ha-Moed (the Tent of Meeting) with their fire-pans. Each puts fire and then incense in his pan, and Kevod Hashem (the Presence of G-d) appears among them. Gd tells Moshe and Aharon to move aside so he can annihilate everyone, but Moshe intercedes (again) on behalf of the people and asks that not everyone be destroyed on account of the rebels. Moshe then instructs the people to move away from the tents of Korach, Datan, and Aviram.

Moshe then says that if Korach, Datan, and Aviram should die in an unnatural manner, such as the ground swallowing them up, this will indicate to the people that it is not Moshe’s doing but G-d’s. Immediately, the ground opens up and swallows the men and their homes and families. The descend, alive, in Sheol, and the earth covers them. This frightens the people, but a fire of Hashem only targets the 250 rebels, killing them.

The Fire-Pans of the Rebels

[Bamidbar 17:1-5]

Moshe is told to order Elazar ha-Kohen, the son of Aharon, to remove the fire-pans (machtot – ) from among the charred remains of the 250 rebels, because the fire-pans have become sacred. The fire-pans, which are made out of copper, are to be hammered into a fine sheet as plating or covering (tzipui -) for the Mizbeach. As well as being holy by virtue of having been used for service to Hashem, the fire-pans are to serve as a reminder to the people that only Aharon and his line is to offer incense.

A Continued Rebellion, and Plague

[Bamidbar 17:6-15]

Bnei Yisrael continue to rebel against Moshe and Aharon, however, complaining that they have brought death to the community. G-d wishes to annihilate them all, and sends a plague on the camp. Moshe tells Aharon to quickly make expiation (ve-kaper -וְכַפֵּר ) for the people by offering incense. Aharon does so, standing between the dead and the living until the plague ceases, not before 14,700 are killed.

A Staff for Each Tribe

[Bamidbar 17:17-28]

Gd then tells Moshe to take one staff (mateh – מַטֶּה) from the nasi (leader) of each of the 12 tribes. Each staff is to be engraved with the name of its respective nasi, with Aharon’s name inscribed on the staff of Levi. The staves are to be placed inside the Ohel ha-Mo’ed, near the Edut (Pact). The staff of the man chosen will sprout. This is done, and the next day, the staff of Aharon of the house of Levi had blossomed, complete with sprouts, blossoms, and almonds. Moshe brings the staves back out and each nasi identifies his. Aharon’s staff is placed back inside by the Edut as a reminder. Still, the people complain, fearing death if they approach the Mishkan.

More on the Responsibilities and Rights of Kohanim and Levites

[Bamidnar 18:1-32]

Hashem reminds Aharon that he and the kohanim are responsible for the Mishkan and bear any guilt for misconduct with regards to it. In this task, they are to be assisted by the Levites, who are not however to handle any of the kelei ha-kodesh (holy instruments – כְּלֵי הַקֹּדֶשׁ) or approach the Mizbeach. Again, all donations (terumot – תְּרוּמֹת) are to be under the management of the kohanim, and they may partake of the appropriate korbanot. The kohen’s whole household may eat of donations and first fruits. While, theoretically, all firstborn animals and humans belong to the kohanim, humans are to be redeemed, while the animals may be consumed. Because the Leviim are not be assigned any land, they receive tithes instead. Of these tithes, the Levites are to set aside 1/10th as a donation to Hashem. The rest may be eaten freely by the Levites and their families.

Haftarah Summary: ויאמר שמואל אל העם

[Shmuel Alef 11:14-12:22]

This is a particularly apt passage to read as the haftarah for Parashat Korach, dealing directly or indirectly with many of the same topics. The passage describes the inauguration of the monarchy with the kingship of Shaul. The prophet Shmuel is the one who oversees this, and to authenticate himself for the task, he uses the same words as does Moshe in speaking to Gd about his position against the rebels. Shmuel calls on “Hashem who appointed Moshe and Aharon and brought your forefathers out of the Land of Egypt” (12:6). Shmuel then recalls the more recent history of the conquest of the Land and the idolatrous behavior of the people; he emphasizes that the people have requested a king. Although the king (Shaul) will be righteous and is correctly appointed, the people have erred in their request, and Shmuel predicts rains out of season to prove this. Indeed the rains come, and the people understand. In response, Shmuel tells the people not to turn away from Hashem, who will never abandon them.

Image: Gustave Doré, Death of Korah, Dathan and Abiram, 1865.

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