The Parsha for this week is Korach Numbers 16:1 to 18:32.
You would have thought that after the ten spies gave a fear-mongering report of the land that they were about to possess, our ancestors would have learnt that speaking out against what was clearly God’s purpose was not the most sensible thing to do. However, immediately after Joshua and Caleb had been vindicated another dissenter appears on the scene named Korach. Korach was a Levite and as such was by no means an insignificant person in the nation of Israel. Along with two hundred and fifty other community leaders he challenged the authority of Moses and Aaron. Two other men -Dathan and Abiram from the tribe of Reuben – also challenged the authority of Moses and Aaron with the standard complaint that they had not carried out their promise of bringing them into the promised land but had brought them to die in the wilderness.
Moses tells Korah and the rebellious Levites to each bring a censor of burnings coals to the sanctuary. Moses and Aaron were also to bring their censors. Then he ordered Dathan and Abiram to come out, but they refused. The earth opened and swallowed up the tents of Dathan and Abiram and their families and fire came down from heaven and burnt up Korah and all the two hundred and fifty men offering incense along with him.
Eleazer the priest then collected the bronze censors from the charred remains of the rebels and had them beaten and used to overlay the altar of burnt offerings.
Did that convince the rest of the people that Moses and Aaron had been appointed by God? Not at all. The next day they still continue their grumbling and God sends a plague. Moses instructs Aaron to rush to the Tent of Meeting with a censor of burning coals to make atonement for them. Aaron stands between the living and the dead but by that time 14,700 of our ancestors had died – not including Korah, Dathan, Abiram and their families.
In order to further stop the constant moaning God orders the leaders of each of the twelve tribes to bring their staffs. Aaron as leader of the Levites brought his staff and wrote his name on it. Aaron’s staff budded, blossomed and produced almonds. Moses instructs him to place his staff in the Mishkan (the Tabernacle). On seeing this everyone is filled with fear and keeps clear of the Mishkan in fear of their lives.
The responsibilities of the Priests and Levites are also here defined. Aaron and his sons were responsible for the sacrifices and priesthood. The Levites were to assist in all ancillary tasks in the Mishkan. The priests could eat from the Terumot – the offerings that were not completely burnt. The first fruits and the firstborn belonged to the Levites and had to be redeemed. However firstborn sheep, goats and oxen could not be redeemed and were to be offered as sacrifices. The Levites owned no property but lived off the tithes of the other tribes.
The Levites in turn were to give a tithe of the tithes received as an offering to the LORD.
Haftarat Korach הפטרת קרח
The Haftarah portion associated with the passage this week is 1 Samuel 11:14 to 12:22. Samuel makes his farewell speech after proclaiming Saul King of Israel.
Samuel tells them that he had led them well and did not take anything unfairly from anyone. He pointed out that ever since our people left Egypt they had rebelled and not believed the LORD and he specifies some of the incidents where God had raised up enemies because of their rebellion. He also pointed out that while Israel had no King but was ruled by the Judges, God was always their King. Nevertheless, God relented to the people’s desire to be like the other nations and have a King, but also instructed that the people and the King they chose were still to walk according to all the LORD’s statures.
The sin of rebellion is probably the most grievous in God’s sight. It’s the sin which all other sins stem from. It is questioning God’s word and it started right in the beginning after creation. ‘Did God really say’ Genesis 3:1. That question is the source of all of humanity’s trouble. If God did not really say it, then we can basically do what we like and this is the basis for all corrupt society that does not base its laws on God’s laws. We can do what we want that works in our interest. We can steal, cheat and sleep with whoever we like. Without order there is very soon a conflict of interests that leads to head on collisions which at one end of the spectrum is a family row and at the other an international war.
What was the motivation for Korach’s complaint? Why was he not content with where he was at? He was stuck in the middle of a wilderness and had been promised something that was not yet apparent. The real reason he was still stuck in this unpleasant situation is that the people had rebelled previously. From Egypt to Israel was not actually that great a distance but the problem is that they believed the negative reports of the spies and this was their own fault. Korach chose to blame Moses and Aaron for the consequences of what was his own responsibility. It’s like blaming the teacher or the classroom or something else for failing an exam when the fact is that not enough work was put in to pass.
The other thing is that he wanted to be in charge. It was not sufficient that he already had a very honourable position as a Levite. That is a mistake made in some congregations today. God has given us all different gifts and tasks yet somehow, we believe that the person in the pulpit is more important to God than the one listening, so we all want to be the macher, the chief. Every part is important, and God’s honours are given out to whom he will and it’s His prerogative to do just that. Hence the offerings that Korach and his 250 followers brought was not accepted and what was meant to honour God became their death sentence.
Likewise, Abiram and Dathan were from the tribe of Reuben. They had a similar gripe to Korach. Reuben was the first-born son of Jacob but forfeited the inheritance of the firstborn because he slept with Bilhah, Rachel’s maid, and his father’s concubine. The Reubenites inherited the disgrace of Reuben, but rather than accepting God’s consequence for the sin of their ancestor, they added sin onto sin by rebelling and the Earth swallowed then up.
Far from putting the matter to bed our ancestors go on to blame Moses and Aaron for their deaths. God’s answer is to send a plague, but Aaron stands between the living and the dead with his censor of incense.
This is a picture of our Lord Yeshua who stands between the living and the dead making intercession for us and protecting us from the wrath of God that befell all who did not believe.
This article originally appeared on the BMJA website and is reposted with permission.