Explore Jewish heritage with an amateur Jew’s commentary on Parsha Korach, Numbers 16:1 – 18:32. Click here to read the previous portion, Parsha Sh’lach.
The Israelites have been wandering, and in case you’ve missed the last couple of Parshas, they’re getting impatient. A Levite among them, Korach, descendant of Reuben (not the sandwich), rises up against Moses alongside 250 others. We’re talking chieftains and other “men of repute.”
Moses, as is a theme with Biblical figures in the Torah, gets pissed.
“You have gone too far!” he says. “For all the community are holy, all of them, and the Lord is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s congregation?”
Basically, “What makes you think you’re so Goddamn, fucking special?”
Moses promises that come the next morning, the Lord will make it clear whose side He’s on. And it’s on that day that Korach shows up at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting where the Lord is ready to put on a show.
“Stand back from this community,” He says to Moses and Aaron, bellowing, “that I may annihilate them in an instant!”
Torah God is, yet again, ready to go overboard. Moses and Aaron plead that He not bring down the entire community because of the sins of one man. We’ve seen throughout the Torah that Torah God often needs to be talked down when He feels unappreciated. This kind of negotiation between man and God is par for the Torah.
God agrees and instructs Moses to warn the community that unless they want to backslapped with a bucket full of smite, they best disassociate themselves with Korach and his ilk. The threat of the wrath of the Lord got the attention of the community and they began to withdraw from the abodes of Korach, Dathan, and Abiram––all leaders of the rebellion. Moses then offered a challenge to Dathan and Abiram, saying that if nothing happens to those who spurned God, if they live out their years like anyone else, then the Lord is not on team Moses.
“But if the Lord brings about something unheard-of, so that the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, you shall know that these men have spurned the Lord,” Moses warns.
Torah God was clearly listening and liked the hypotehtical Moses presented and went off to the races with it. As soon as Moses finishs, the ground underneath “burst asunder” and the earth swallows up Korach’s people and all of their possessions. They fall right down into Sheol––”a place of darkness to which the dead go.”
Needless to say, that got everyone’s attention. The Israelites started running around, shrieking, and God topped off His vengeance with a little fire show that consumed the 250 men of Korach who were offering incense.
The next day, the Israelites thought Moses and Aaron were to blame for everything.
“You two have brought death upon the Lord’s people!” they shouted.
They really shouldn’t have said that because that was all God needed to “annihilate them in an instant.” God sent a plague, people died (again), and Moses and Aaron atoned for the people with an incense ritual. Frankly, I’m surprised some incense stopped the plague. I can’t imagine that working on a pissed off significant other.
“Sorry everyone doubts you, honey, and you’re teetering on a murderous rage, but here’s some incense!”
At the end of it all, over 14,000 people died starting from the Korach rebellion.
“Those who complain of Me must stop complaining lest they die,” God warned, which seems like a pretty obvious point to emphasize at this stage. But there you have it. God wants you to keep the faith, folks.
Onward with Parsha Cukat-Balak.