Follow along in the AUDIO PODCAST, and click on the play button below, reading along with the notes, as you listen to today's Parashat:
In this week’s Torah portion, we witness the first real organized rebellion in the history of the Jewish nation – a well-coordinated and planned power play by Korach and his followers against Moses and Aaron.
וַיִּקַּ֣חקֹ֔רַח בֶּן־יִצְהָ֥ר בֶּן־קְהָ֖ת בֶּן־לֵוִ֑י וְדָתָ֨ן וַאֲבִירָ֜ם בְּנֵ֧י אֱלִיאָ֛ב וְא֥וֹן בֶּן־פֶּ֖לֶת בְּנֵ֥י
וַיָּקֻ֙מוּ֙ לִפְנֵ֣י מֹשֶׁ֔ה וַאֲנָשִׁ֥ים מִבְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל חֲמִשִּׁ֣ים וּמָאתָ֑יִם נְשִׂיאֵ֥י עֵדָ֛ה קְרִאֵ֥י מוֹעֵ֖ד
“Korach son of Yitzhar son of Kohath son of Levi separated himself, with Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth, sons of Reuben. They arose before Moses with men of the Children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, those summoned for meeting, men of renown” (Numbers 16:1-2)
Interestingly, the word for “separated” is וַיִּקַּח (“vayiqach”) which is traditionally translated as “he took” – speaking of Korach. As is translated here, it refers to him “taking” himself or “separating” himself away from Moses’ leadership and Aaron’s priesthood. Alternatively, it could mean that Korach “took” or persuaded the 250 men of renown over to his side. Another interpretation is that Korach’s heart “took” him – he thought of an idea and plotted in his heart.
Why did Korach plot? There are various views. Yet throughout, there are some clear indications of motivation. Let’s refer back to the first verse’s mention of Korach’s lineage. Why mention his lineage and go as far back as Levi? Korach was first-born to Yitzhar, who was second-born to Kohath (after Amram) son of Levi. This first indication tells us several things:  it was a family feud as Moses and Aaron were cousins of Korach; and  it was regarding the priesthood, as the lineage stopped at Levi. Regarding the family, Moses had the position of leadership for the nation, while Aaron was Kohen Gadol (High Priest). Moreover, Moses elected Elizaphan, son of Uzziel (youngest son to Kohath) as leader of the Kohathite family (3:30). Clearly, Korach felt he was more deserving of one of these titles, if not all of them. Yet, he realized he could not challenge Moses on his own – he sought aid “next door”.
South of the Kohathite encampment around the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was the Tribe of Reuben, and Korach found allies in Dathan, Abiram and On, notable leaders amongst the tribe. What is unique about Reuben? Remember, Reuben was Jacob’s first-born son by birth. However, before Jacob died, he favoured Joseph over Reuben with the inheritance portion, and he gave Judah the kingship (Genesis 49). Clearly, with the right motivation, they could be incited to join this rebellion.
Then there were the 250 men of renown, princes of the assembly, and most likely first-born Israelites from across the 12 tribes of Israel. Again, this points back to the priesthood which was formerly a right of the firstborn in Egypt, but was given to the Tribe of Levi after the sinning of the Golden Calf.
What was the backdrop? What were the events leading up to it? In last week’s parashat, we witnessed the incident of the spies where the nation turned against Moses due to the bad report from the 10 spies, and as a result, the current generation was condemned to remain in the Wilderness for 40 years until they died off. A death sentence for much of the nation. This seemed to be the perfect opportunity for the instigators of this rebellion to act. What better time than when the nation was at a low and so vulnerable.
Dathan and Abiram said to Moses: “Is it not enough that you have brought us up from a land flowing with milk and honey to cause us to die in the wilderness, yet you seek to dominate us, even to dominate further?” (Numbers 16:13) They even referred to Egypt as a land flowing with milk and honey, the very description given by Hashem for the Land of Canaan where He was bringing them!
The leaders of the rebellion arose and gathered against Moses and Aaron, saying:
“It is much for you! For the entire assembly – all of them – are holy and Hashem is among them, so why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of Hashem?” (Numbers 16:3)
Do you see what they did? They challenged Moses as having taken on a greater position of power than was appropriate, making the case as if it was Moses who elevated himself. Not only that, but Korach went on to put the entire nation on the same footing as Moses – that all of Israel “are holy and Hashem is among them”. That they all had equal status.
What was the immediate response by Moses? He didn’t confront the perpetrators. He didn’t put them in their place as he most certainly would have had grounds to do. No, “Moses heard and fell on his face” (Numbers 16:4) – an act of humility in response to their blatant accusation against him. Furthermore, Moses made numerous efforts to plead with the perpetrators to reconsider their plans. Would we expect anything different from Moses? It was Moses that twice before stood in the gap for the nation, advocating on their behalf for Hashem to restrain from annihilating them. And here now, even in the midst of a rebellion against him!
Moses went on to dictate the terms of the test to Korach and his entire assembly: “In the morning, Hashem will make known who is His own and who is holy, and He will bring close to Him, and whom He will choose. Do this: Take for yourselves fire-pans – Korach and his entire assembly – and put fire in them and place incense upon them before Hashem tomorrow. Then the man whom Hashem will choose, he is the holy one.” (Numbers 16:5-7)
So, Korach and the 250 renown men were to bring fire-pans and perform the incense service of the Mishkan in the morning. Remember, this service would have previously belonged to them as first-borns. However, this service was given over to the Kohanim (Priesthood) by Hashem. Moreover, clearly their memory did not serve them well as they should have remembered what happened to the two eldest sons of Aaron in bringing “alien fire” before Hashem on the inauguration day of the Mishkan – “A fire came forth from before Hashem and consumed them, and they died before Hashem” (Leviticus 10:2). For the 250 men, the end result was similarly devastating: “A fire came forth from Hashem and consumed the 250 men who were offering the incense” (Numbers 16:35).
Prior to this, Hashem cautioned the people to move away from the tents of Korach, Dathan and Abiram, and not to touch any of their property. Moses prayed: “But if Hashem will create a creation, and the ground will open its mouth and swallow them and all that is theirs, and they will descend alive to the pit, then you shall know that these men have provoked Hashem!” (Numbers 16:30) Immediately upon finishing these words, “the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, and all the people who were with Korach, and all the possessions… [and] the earth covered them over and they were lost from among the congregation.” (Numbers 16:31-34)
What is so difficult to understand is how these men (Korach, Dathan, Abiram and the 250 men) could stand defiantly against Moses and Aaron (and Hashem) right until their end! These same men were also present to witness the power of Hashem by the hand of Moses from the Exodus from Egypt, to the provision of manna and quail in the Wilderness, to the sight of Hashem’s Presence descending on Mount Sinai and Moses ascending the mountain. They heard and they saw! Did they really, truly believe they had merit to replace Hashem’s choice of leadership? What it goes to show is that they lacked any fear of Hashem! They rejected His Torah! They cherry-picked parts that served their selfish purposes and ignored the rest. They enticed others to join them with compelling speech and convincing argument. They got caught up so much in their movement, truly believed they were right and gained so much traction that they lost sight of Hashem in all of this. Oh, the pride and arrogance of man! How our egos left unrestrained can overcome all sense and sensibility! And hence, Hashem (through Moses and Aaron) had to stamp out the rebellion with supernatural acts to remind the young nation of Israel of His choice of leadership – the same leadership that was responsible for conveying Hashem’s Word, His Torah to the nation.
4,000 years later, and here we are. Has anything changed? You don’t have to look far to see the vast array of offshoots that have formed. There are those that view the Torah as a mythological book of tales. Others have taken the Brit Chadashah (New Testament) and separated it from the Torah, referring to the Torah as “old” and “done away with”. Others have taken on a more reformed view to fit the Torah (and the rest of the Bible) into a modern-day belief system. The splintering in interpretation of the Word of God has ultimately gone to serve ulterior motives, varying theologies, and self-aggrandizement of individuals, movements and ministries around the world. So much damage has been done throughout history, divisions created and people persecuted – especially the Jewish nation – over erroneous interpretations. And this has to stop!
The Torah is the source code for the rest of the Word of God – the Books of the Prophets, the Writings, and the Brit Chadashah (New Testament). The Torah is the heart-beat for the entire Word of God. We have to return to the source code – to the Torah. Only then can we gain a true understanding and appreciation for the rest of the Word of God.
Hashem said to Joshua (Moses’ successor): “Only be very strong and courageous, to observe, to do, according to the entire Torah that Moses My servant commanded you; do not deviate from it to the right or to the left, in order that you may succeed wherever you will go. This Book of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth; rather you should contemplate it day and night in order that you observe to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way successful, and then you will act wisely.” (Joshua 1:7-8)
All throughout the Psalms, King David quoted the merits and his love for the Torah:
אַ֥שְֽׁרֵי־הָאִ֗ישׁ אֲשֶׁ֤ר ׀ לֹ֥א הָלַךְ֮ בַּעֲצַ֪ת רְשָׁ֫עִ֥ים וּבְדֶ֣רֶךְ חַ֭טָּאִים לֹ֥א עָמָ֑ד וּבְמוֹשַׁ֥ב
לֵ֝צִ֗ים לֹ֣א יָשָֽׁב׃
כִּ֤י אִ֥ם בְּתוֹרַ֥ת יְהוָ֗ה חֶ֫פְצ֥וֹ וּֽבְתוֹרָת֥וֹ יֶהְגֶּ֗ה יוֹמָ֥ם וָלָֽיְלָה׃
“Praiseworthy is the man who did not walk in the counsel of the wicked, and in the path of the sinful did not stand, and in the session of scorners did not sit. Rather in the Torah of Hashem is his desire, and in His Torah he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:1-2)
גַּל־עֵינַ֥י וְאַבִּ֑יטָה נִ֝פְלָא֗וֹת מִתּוֹרָתֶֽךָ׃
“Unveil my eyes that I may perceive wonders from Your Torah.” (Psalm 119:18)
הֲבִינֵנִי וְאֶצְּרָ֥ה תֽוֹרָתֶ֗ךָ וְאֶשְׁמְרֶ֥נָּה בְכָל־לֵֽב׃
“Grant me understanding so that I may cherish Your Torah, and keep it with my whole heart.” (Psalm 119:34)
מָֽה־אָהַ֥בְתִּי תוֹרָתֶ֑ךָ כָּל־הַ֝יּ֗וֹם הִ֣יא שִׂיחָתִֽי׃
“O how I love Your Torah! All day long it is my discussion.” (Psalm 119:97)
נֵר־לְרַגְלִ֥י דְבָרֶ֑ךָ וְ֝א֗וֹר לִנְתִיבָתִֽי׃
“Your Word is a lamp to my feet, a light to my paths.” (Psalm 119:105) – [Note the use of “Your Word” as synonymous for Hashem’s Torah]
Let’s look next to Yeshua, “the head and completer of [our] faith” (Hebrews 12:2). He was a living Torah – he embodied all of the Torah in his essence! As John wrote in his gospel:
וְהַדָּבָר נִהְיָה בָשָֹׂר וַיִּשְׁכֹּן בְּתוֹכֵנוּ
“And the Word became flesh and dwelled amongst us” (John 1:14)
Moreover, Yeshua spoke these words to the people:
אַל־תְּדַמּוּ כִּי בָאתִי לְהָפֵר אֶת־הַתּוֹרָה אוֹ אֶת־דִּבְרֵי הַנְּבִיאִים לֹא בָאתִי לְהָפֵר כִּי
כִּי אָמֵן אֹמֵר אֲנִי לָכֶם עַד כִּי־יַעַבְרוּ הַשָׁמַיִם וְהָאָרֶץ לֹא תַּעֲבֹר יוֹד אַחַת אוֹ־קוֹץ
אֶחָד מִן־הַתּוֹרָה עַד אֲשֶׁר יְקֻיַּם הַכֹּל׃
לָכֵן הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יָפֵר אַחַת מִן־הַמִּצְוֹת הַקְּטַנּוֹת הָאֵלֶּה וִילַמֵּד אֶת־בְּנֵי הָאָדָם
לַעֲשׂוֹֹת כָּמוֹהוּ קָטוֹן יִקָּרֵא לוֹ בְּמַלְכוּת הַשָׁמָיִם וַאֲשֶׁר יַעָשֶֹׂה וִילַמֵּד אוֹתָן לָזֶה
גָּדוֹל יִקָּרֵא בְּמַלְכוּת הַשָׁמָיִם׃
“Do not imagine that I have come to violate the Torah or the words of the prophets. I have not come to violate but to complete. For, amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass way, not one yod or one thorn will pass away from the Torah until all has been established. Therefore, the man who violates one of these small mitzvot (commandments) and teaches sons of men to do like him will be called small in the Kingdom of Heaven, but whoever does and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-19)
Nowhere in the entire Brit Chadashah do you find Yeshua violating any of the mitzvot of the Torah! Nowhere throughout do you find him contradicting the Torah through his teachings or actions!
If we claim to look to Yeshua as our guide, we must replicate him, as he is the “head and completer of our faith” in Hashem. If he was a living Torah and he embodied it in his essence, we must learn to do the same.
May this be a warning and a challenge for us all. Let’s return to the Word of God! Let’s return to the Torah! May we ground ourselves in it by studying it diligently, by knowing it in our hearts. It should be the source code for our lives, as it draws us deeper and deeper into the knowledge of Hashem, our Source and our Creator!