You can find the rest of the parsha text on Chabad.org at Korach or at Sefaria.
From The Hebrew College
Playing with Fire
By Rabbi Micha’el Rosenberg
In the year 2021, the story of Korah’s rebellion—a narrative that composes most of this week’s parashah—hits a bit too close to home. It is a tale of populist rebellion against those sitting in authority, a story that ends with graphic violence and national calamity.
Though the Torah’s telling of the event is ambiguous, this much is clear: several named figures—including Korah, Dasan, and Aviram—attempt a coup against the political leadership of Moses, and the ritual leadership of Aaron, the high priest. Along with these named leaders, the Torah tells us also of 250 Israelites, “leaders of the community, chosen from the assembly (keri’ei mo‘eid), people of repute [literally, ‘people of name’]” (Numbers 16:2). These leaders “rose up before Moses . . . gathering against Moses and Aaron, saying to them, ‘You have taken too much . . . Why are you lording over God’s people?’” (Numbers 16:3).
It would be easy to dismiss this riotous uprising as a bad faith power grab—and, in the case of its leaders, that indeed appears to be the Torah’s message. Matters are more complicated, however, in the case of the 250 Israelites who follow Korah, Dasan, and Aviram into this revolt. The Torah describes them as “people of name.” Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin—commonly referred to by an acronym for his name, “the Netziv”—points to the implication of the epithet: the book of Ecclesiastes says that a “[good] name is better than good oil” (Ecc 7:1). The “name” these Israelites carry is not neutral; to be a “person of name” means to be a person of substance, a person who, in the Netziv’s understanding, wants to do the will of God. So how could such noble individuals get caught up in this heinous act of treason?
It might be tempting to say that they were duped, convinced that Aaron and Moses were truly a threat to the well-being of the community. Here too, however, the Netziv points us to the Torah’s description of these people as implying otherwise: the 250 participants in the revolt are referred to as “leaders of the people, chosen from the assembly.” If they were indeed leaders, the Netziv points out, then they would know from experience that leadership requires a certain amount of gravitas and even, at times, separation from the masses. Perhaps Aaron and Moses did take on a certain amount of authority, but no more than was needed to fill their roles as leaders of the people; as communal leaders themselves, the 250 would have recognized this.
Moreover, the phrase translated above as “chosen from the assembly” is, in the Hebrew, ambiguous. The Hebrew words keri’ei mo‘eid sound, literally, something like “those called [by/for] the set time/appointment.” The Netziv reads this clunky phrase to mean that they were present in important meetings. To paraphrase Hamilton, they were “in the room where it happens.” They witnessed the leadership of Aaron and Moses firsthand. They would know that Moses and Aaron were not themselves power-hungry budding autocrats, but rather, committed public servants doing what was necessary—and no more.
So what happened to these 250 confused souls? They were not fundamentally duplicitous, so they were presumably not lying merely in order to achieve personal goals. And they were insiders, so they were not misled with false information.
The Netziv says that this simply highlights the danger of mahlokes, a word we usually translate as “debate,” but which in this context must mean something more like division and contention. In the Netziv’s formulation, mahlokes is like fire: once a spark is lit, the fire grows and consumes both that which should be consumed, but also things that we never intended to set aflame. So too, once mahlokes has been lit, its flames envelop both those already primed to cause trouble, but also those who are “leaders of the community, chosen from the assembly, people of repute.” The whole point of this part of the story, the Netziv tells us, is that the 250 who joined Korah’s rebellion were not fundamentally wicked. That doesn’t exonerate them; rather, it makes clear the awful destructiveness of reckless attacks on leadership.
That is not to say that there is never a place for mahlokes. Says the Netziv, where the nation’s leader has engaged in “clear transgression,” debate, even division, is not only permissible, it’s essential—it’s a mitzvah. There are times when we must call out those in power, charging them with putting their own interests and ego ahead of the common good. That truism does not mitigate the fact that doing so—even when justified, let alone when not—is also dangerous. Even well-intentioned, well-informed leaders can get swept up in the unleashed fire of challenges to authority. And all the more so those, like Korah, who act neither from good intent nor with full knowledge, but rather light the match to watch the destruction ensue, hoping that they will somehow come out on top when the inferno goes out.
May we all merit to have the courage to call out corruption where it truly exists; the wisdom to know the difference between appropriate leadership and arrogant self-aggrandizement; and the care and self-control to never get caught up in the fiery emotions of a demagogue’s revolt.
From Brian Yosef Schacter-Brooks
The Waves – Parshat Korakh
One of the radical teachings of Hassidism, once regarded by some Rabbinic authorities as heretical, is that we all have equal and immediate access to the Divine, regardless of book learning and even regardless of purity in thought and action. That’s because the Hassidic understanding is that the Divine is not something separate from anything, but is rather the basic Reality of Everything – similar to the relationship between the waves and the ocean. The waves have form and duration; they have individual “identity” in a sense, yet they are never separate from the vast and formless ocean.
Similarly, all things are like waves in the great Ocean of Being, and all we need do to connect with Hashem is shift our attention from the waves – the world of time and thinking – to the world of the Ocean – the realm of the Timeless Present.
One of the disciples of Rabbi Reb Pinchas of Koretz wasn’t convinced: “I am not really a holy person; I don’t see how I could possibly ever know Hashem with all the wicked things I’ve done.”
Reb Pinchas responded with a parable: “Once there was a prince who liked to go on journeys, so he had many little cottages scattered throughout the land. When he would travel, he would stay in those cottages, among the common folk. Those cottages were very different and far more modest than his palace, but they were in no way inferior, because they served a different function; what the palace could not do, the cottages could, and vice versa.
“It is the same with people: when a supposedly wicked person turns their heart to the Divine and connects in prayer or in good deed, the Divine rejoices in a way that is not possible with the tzaddikim; that’s why it’s important for everyone to understand that they have a unique mission, regardless of how unscholarly or unsaintly they may regard themselves.”
The palace and the cottage are different forms of “home.”
Home is a wonderful metaphor for connection with the Divine, because the Divine is literally “at home” everywhere – just as the ocean is “at home” within every wave. Home should be (b’ezrat Hashem) a place of restfulness and security; just like the state of inner connectedness that comes from Presence. But also, the home is a place we leave frequently, only to return again. If we were trapped in our home, the home would be like a prison; we would be “under house arrest.” Appreciation for being at home is partially dependent on regularly visiting other places.
Similarly, we can leave our “home” in the present moment to travel through landscapes of thought and feeling. If thought and feeling function as temporary abodes for serving the betterment of life, they are like the “cottages of the prince” so to speak… as long as we don’t get trapped! We don’t want to get “taken hostage” by the mind and lose sight of our true home, the palace of Presence.
וַיִּֽקָּהֲל֞וּ עַל־מֹשֶׁ֣ה וְעַֽל־אַהֲרֹ֗ן וַיֹּאמְר֣וּ אֲלֵהֶם֮ רַב־לָכֶם֒ כִּ֤י כָל־הָֽעֵדָה֙ כֻּלָּ֣ם קְדֹשִׁ֔ים וּבְתוֹכָ֖ם יְהוָ֑ה וּמַדּ֥וּעַ תִּֽתְנַשְּׂא֖וּ עַל־קְהַ֥ל יְהוָֽה׃
They gathered against Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and the Divine is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the congregation of Hashem?”
This week’s reading, Parshat Korakh, describes a rebellion against Moses and Aaron. The protestors have a good point – yes, everyone is holy. This is what the mind whispers to us: “These thoughts are important and holy too!” – which is true! But, visit them and dwell in them as if you were royalty, traveling and visiting your country house; don’t get lost in them! Remember the Palace of Presence, remember your true home.
But how do you do that?
In the haftorah, the prophet Samuel rebukes the people for rejecting Hashem as their King and requesting a human king, king Saul. The people feel remorse and beg for mercy. But Samuel reassures them:
וַיֹּ֨אמֶר שְׁמוּאֵ֤ל אֶל־הָעָם֙ אַל־תִּירָ֔אוּ אַתֶּ֣ם עֲשִׂיתֶ֔ם אֵ֥ת כָּל־הָרָעָ֖ה הַזֹּ֑את אַ֗ךְ אַל־תָּס֙וּרוּ֙ מֵאַחֲרֵ֣י יְהוָ֔ה וַעֲבַדְתֶּ֥ם אֶת־יְהוָ֖ה בְּכָל־לְבַבְכֶֽם׃
But Samuel said to the people, “Have no fear. You have, indeed, done all those wicked things. Do not, however, turn away, but serve the Divine with all your heart.
The point is, it’s okay to have a human king. It’s okay – it’s necessary and good in fact – to engage in the world, to enjoy the world. It’s okay to travel in the paths of thought and feeling. But, if you find you have become lost and fearful that you won’t find your way home, have no fear! Know the ocean is always beneath the waves. Al tasuru – don’t turn away! Turn your attention toward the Divine as the Ever-Present Reality of this moment.
Rabbi Yisrael, the Maggid of Koznitz, used to visit the city of Apt every year on his father’s yartzeit to visit his grave. For years, he would teach the community on those visits. One year, on such a visit, they asked him when he would come and preach in the synagogue.
“I don’t think I will preach this year,” he replied. “I don’t see any evidence that my preaching has done any good.” The people were dumbfounded, and didn’t know what to say.
Later, a crowd gathered around the inn where the Maggid was staying. They wanted to convince him to come and speak, but weren’t sure how. Then, a young craftsman went into the inn and knocked on the Maggid’s door. The Maggid answered.
“You say that your preaching hasn’t had any effect,” said the craftsman. “But that’s not true. Last year you spoke about the practice of Sh’viti Hashem L’negdi Tamid – I place the Divine before me constantly. Ever since then, I always see the Divine before me in whatever I am doing, and in whatever is happening; It appears to me like white fire on black fire.”
“Hmm,” replied the Maggid, “Okay then, I’ll come and preach.”
From Rabbi James Stone Goodman
You Have Taken Too Much
You have taken too much upon yourselves the whole group is holy – be patient, said our teacher.
The earth opened her mouth and swallowed them the boss and all of them the challenge personal not principled.
O holy G*d the presence of mind is mine to discern a legitimate argument from an illegitimate argument —
When to insist when not to insist when to resist when to be quiet,
When to squeeze through the door
When to push through
A new one.
From the Hebrew College
By Rabbi Or Rose, June 12, 2018
Look Inward: Learning from Korach’s Downfall
Rabbi Or Rose
In this week’s Torah portion, Korah (after whom the reading is named) and other prominent members of ancient Israelite society brazenly challenge Moses and Aaron’s leadership, resulting in the dramatic death of the rebels through supernatural means (16:31-35).
Over the centuries, biblical interpreters have explored the figure of Korah, a member of the Levite tribe and Moses and Aaron’s cousin. What inspired this man to challenge his divinely-appointed relatives? Why did he seek to overthrow them? Did he act in good conscience or was he guided by lesser motives?
In one intriguing comment on this episode by the early hasidic master, Rabbi Meshullam Feibush Heller of Zbarazh (d. 1795), the mystical preacher offers the following psychological insight regarding Korah (see Yosher Divrei Emet #30):
Even though Korah possessed both intelligence and the holy spirit, a spark of envy remained within him. He had not purified his heart of it in a total way… He thought that Moses was using his exalted role in a way that opposed truth, that he had strayed from truth and erred in aggrandizing himself. It was Moses’s sense of his own greatness, Korah thought, that caused him to exalt himself over God’s community, as he said: “Why do you uplift yourselves over the congregation of YHWH” (Numbers 16:3)?
Our teacher points out that while Moses did carry himself with a sense of nobility, he did so “for the sake of God, to guide people in God’s service.” Rabbi Meshullam Feibush adds that Moses was a deeply humble person, which is why he demurred when the Divine first called on him to serve as the liberator of the Israelites from Egypt (Exodus 4). Moses relented only after the Almighty pressed him to accept this great charge. Rabbi Meshullam Feibush rounds out his defense of Moses by arguing that the Israelite leader continued to walk humbly throughout his life, as attested to by the Torah’s declaration in the Book of Numbers that he was “humbler than any person on the face of the earth” (12:3).
Korah, however, could not accept that Moses was able to act with “greatness” while remaining a person of humility and integrity. According to Rabbi Meshullam Feibush, the ancient figure erred in his judgement because he could not admit to his own envy, and so thrust his lack upon Moses. He continues, “Korah thought just the opposite, as the evil of envy caused his heart to see bad as good and good as bad.” As a result, Korah believed that Moses was an irredeemably haughty person, who led from a place of arrogance, and not out of a genuine sense of duty.
Using Korah as a case study, Rabbi Meshullam Feibush then turns his attention directly to the listener (and reader), stating that it requires “great faith” to recognize a “lack” in oneself, particularly when a person genuinely seeks to do good. “Take care: it might be sinful self-exaltation that makes you want to do a mitzvah that is not required of you and that might be performed by somebody else.” With this incisive remark, the preacher redirects our attention from the ancient world to contemporary life. No longer are we discussing a fallen biblical figure, but ourselves (whether or not we play public leadership roles). Like Korah, we wish to contribute and serve meaningfully, and we have ego needs that can lead us astray if we do not acknowledge and channel them appropriately. We must ask ourselves why we want to engage in a certain action, if it is “required” of us, or if there may be someone else better suited for it?
As my teacher Rabbi Arthur Green notes, in this hasidic presentation of Korah, the disgruntled rebel is not “a person of wicked intent,” but “one who did not turn his sharp eye of critical judgement inward on himself” (see Speaking Torah: Spiritual Insights from Around the Maggid’s Table, Volume 2, p. 34). While we all have a need to be seen and valued and can feel jealous of others, Rabbi Meshullam Feibush calls us to carefully weigh and measure these emotions, and to honestly assess how they contribute to our perception of ourselves and others.
From Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan
A Warning or an Embrace
BY Rabbi Jan Uhrbach
How to deal with a demagogue? Parashat Korah offers a case study in what works and what doesn’t.
The parashah begins with a dramatic confrontation. Korah gathers together with Datan, Aviram, On, and 250 community leaders, and hurls accusations at Moses and Aaron:
You have gone too far [literally: You have too much]! For all the community are holy, all of them, and the Lord is among them. Why do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s congregation? (Num. 16:3)
His claim is classic demagoguery: Korah lies, but his assertions are hard to disprove; he accuses his opponents of his own secret intentions; he appeals to populism, when he is in fact driven by his ego; he distorts the truth with oversimplifications; and he seizes a moment when the people are demoralized and vulnerable.
How does Moses respond? He initially tries reason, appealing to the rebels’ better nature (16:8-11). When that fails, he then proposes a test to reveal the truth: each member of the rebel group will appear before God with a fire-pan, with incense and fire, and God will reveal who is truly acting on God’s behalf (16:5-7, 16-18). The rebels apparently agree, but anticipating the showdown, support for Korah only grows:
That entire night [Korah] went to the tribes, and convinced them. He said, “are you under the impression that it is only for myself that I care? I care for all of you! These [Moses and Aaron] come and take all of the positions of greatness”… Until they were all convinced. (Rashi on 16:19)
So Moses proposes an additional test. If Moses is truly God’s servant, and Korah and his followers are in the wrong, then God will cause them to die a supernatural death: the earth will open and swallow them. God vindicates Moses: the ground opens and swallows Korah’s whole crowd alive, and Divine fire consumes the 250 men with their incense (16:28-35).
Isn’t this just what Moses needed? (And who wouldn’t love divine intervention to prove one’s point?) Unfortunately, God’s smiting the rebel faction doesn’t matter. The people have bought into Korah’s narrative that Moses and Aaron are the bad guys, and even divine oracles fail to sway them: “The entire assembly complained the next day against Moses and Aaron saying, ‘You have killed the people of Adonai’” (17:6).
Why doesn’t the destruction of Korah and his assembly work, and what can we learn from Moses’s attempts and failures? One clear lesson is that solutions aimed only at leadership are inadequate. Moses succeeds rather quickly in removing Korah and his band. But when a demagogue holds sway, the problem is always systemic, and systemic problems demand systemic responses. As Isaac Arama tellingly comments regarding Moses’s and Aaron’s objection to God in16:22 (“The one man shall sin, but You will be angry with the entire assembly!”): when one limb is diseased, we say the person is sick (Akedat Yitzhak).
Perhaps for this reason, rather than demonizing Korah and making him “other,” the Rabbis say that Korah was a scholar, learned in Torah—a sage like themselves (Bemidbar Rabbah 18:3). In doing so, they did not merely turn Korah into a warning of the dark side of the rabbinic enterprise of acquiring Torah. They also became role models for all of us. It’s natural to want to distance ourselves from behavior we find abhorrent. But the Baal Shem Tov famously taught that if you witness evil, it‘s because that potential for evil is within you. By claiming Korah as emerging out of their own community, the Rabbis conveyed the same lesson on the collective level: when a toxic figure captures a community’s or society’s trust, the entire community needs to engage in self-examination.
The second lesson is that once irrational anger and fear have been tapped, and faith in genuine leadership undermined, the process back is a long one, demanding patience, fortitude, and calm, disciplined leadership. Moses himself learns this lesson. Initially, he (and God) fight fire with fire. But then Moses slowly weans the people—and the reader—off the high drama and reactivity instigated by Korah.
God instructs Moses, “Separate yourselves from the midst of this assembly and I shall destroy them in an instant.” Encouraging Aaron to act quickly, Moses says, “the wrath has gone out milifnei Adonai [literally: from the presence of the Lord]; the plague has begun!” (17:10-11).The plain meaning is that God is angry, and punishes the people with a plague. But it is possible to read this exchange not as command and response, but as instruction and learning. God explains to Moses that if the authentic leadership separates from the people, they will quickly self-destruct. Moses then conveys the message to Aaron: anger has drawn the people away from God’s presence, and this itself has become a plague that will destroy them. So rather than separate themselves, Moses directs Aaron to stand right in the middle of the people (17:11-13). Rashi evocatively notes that Aaron “seized the Angel [of Death] and made him stand still against his will.” Though neither reason nor miracles have succeeded in calming the people’s anger and fear, a non-anxious presence—connected but not enmeshed—is a first step.
Then Moses chooses a new symbol. Rather than the passion and destructiveness of fiery incense, a wooden staff blossoms, sending forth shoots and almonds (17:23)—a message of gentleness, generativity, and hope.
We would like the story to end there. Yet even this fails to fully resolve the people’s complaints. Though they no longer wrongly accuse Moses and Aaron, they remain paralyzed in a reflexive fear and despair that has become self-fulfilling: “Behold! we perish, we are lost, all of us are lost” (Num. 17:27).
That’s when the real work begins. The parashah concludes with an entire chapter detailing the duties of the Levites. Chapter 18 offers a remedial lesson in what structured, centered, authentic leadership looks like. We reclaim the notion of leadership as service, not a quest for power, glory, or wealth, and we read of the burdens and not only the rewards of leadership. We’re reminded of the importance of protecting against impingement on that which is holy, and on core values.
Stylistically, chapter 18 is dull, especially after the drama of the Korah narrative. And that’s part of the point. Demagogues create compelling drama. Leadership is found in the day-to-day shouldering of burdens—rarely thrilling, often boring.
In the end, the parashah challenges us to teach ourselves how to resist demagogues: to understand the problem as our own, not as external to us; to embody calm and hope; and to break our addiction to high drama, attending to and valuing the disciplined work of genuine service.
From Jewish Sacred Aging
Korach: Rebellion vs Creativity: What Are We Against? What Are We For?
Written by: Rabbi Richard Address on July 7, 2016.
Korach! What a portion! Right on the heels of the reports of the spies and the failure of the people to have “faith” in their own vision and the vision of God, comes a major rebellion against the leadership of Moses. Korach, incites the people, creating an undercurrent of unrest and distrust, using language that is designed to raise fear. Korach accuses Moses of a sort of elitism, citing his seeing himself, according to Korach, as being above the common people (Numbers [16:13]).
Was Korach blinded by his own desire for power and thus was prone to make outlandish statements which were designed to incite and stir doubt? Was this only a blind power play? Or, as some have suggested, was this another example of Korach’s own inner sense of inferiority. Talmud remarks that “One who seeks to disqualify another projects his own defects on him”.
Let me suggest that, as with the last portion. Korach can have real meaning for us as we get a little older. With that life experience can come, we hope, a sense of perspective. Some of the things we were angry about, or rebelled against when we were younger, have gained some understanding. We may come to realize that anger, especially misdirected anger based on our own own needs or insecurities, can be destructive. After all, look what happened to Korach. That anger and rage led to his own destruction, as it often does to people who fail to learn how to control and master their own emotions. Perhaps that is a message?
We can learn what really is worthy of our anger. It is usually not about “us”, but often, that anger can serve as a motivation for social change. Certainly one of the hallmarks of much of Boomer aging is the growing desire to “give back” to society. We see this all over the country.
This is an age where we learn to harness the “anger” we may feel regarding issues of injustice or social dis-connect. The response can be a creative one, where we channel what is best in us to engage in solution building. In doing so, we can realize some priorities in our own life. To rebel against those injustices is a calling. To fail to act in some small way, eventually does lead to destruction. The rebellion of Korach can symbolize a moment in our own lives when we move from self interest to social interest, from self to society.
Rabbi Richard F Address
From American Jewish World Service
Posted by Jimmy Taber
“…and we argued passionately but always rested assured that our arguments were indeed ‘for the sake of heaven.’”
These words, used to close the graduation ceremony for my cohort from Brandeis University’s Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program, struck me as especially thought provoking. The quote references a passage in Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of the Ancestors, which reads: “Any dispute for the sake of heaven will have enduring value, but any dispute not for the sake of heaven will not have enduring value.” 1
As an ethical guide to our debates, arguments and discourse, this passage is quite enigmatic. What does it mean to argue for, or not for, ‘the sake of heaven’? Rabbi Jonathan Sacks interprets this distinction as a dichotomy between “an argument for the sake of truth” and “an argument for the sake of victory.”2 In other words, an argument for the sake of heaven is motivated by the pursuit of the greater good, while its inverse stems from a desire for personal gain.
Pirkei Avot itself references this week’s parshah it its illumination of the phrase, explaining that an example of an argument not for the sake of heaven can be found in “the dispute of Korach and all his company.”3 Parshat Korach opens with the Levite Korach challenging the authority of Moses and Aaron to lead the Israelite community. He says, “You have gone too far! 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?”4 Infuriated by the confrontation, God opens the earth and swallows Korach and his followers.5
What about Korach’s challenge to Moses and Aaron made it “not for the sake of heaven”? Checking the power of leaders to preserve equality within a community is generally positive. According to the consensus among traditional commentators, however, Korach was not seeking true equality. Rather, he actually sought to remove Moses and Aaron from leadership in favor of himself.6 His motivations were selfish and his actions ultimately were not designed to benefit the community as a whole.
As activists, this message is particularly relevant: our work is fundamentally based in disagreement, as we work to change or modify the status quo to create social change. Our strategies to accomplish this often take the form of argument, either explicitly or implicitly, with those who favor things the way they are or have a different vision for change. We write editorials, post to blogs and seek to organize others to promote our perspective; all the while, actively pushing for our vision of our community and the world.
In this age, when our words and actions are visible to everyone we know through social media, it is important to ensure that we remain motivated by truth and not victory. Indicators that our efforts have gained traction—like “likes” on our Facebook posts or comments on our blog posts—are a good thing, but tallying likes, tweets, views and comments as an end in itself inappropriately places us, as individuals, at the center of our work. Instead, we must be driven by a desire to create change for the sake of the community, rather than for the sake of our own reputations as changemakers. To be motivated by self aggrandizement leads to arguments without merit that ultimately damage the social justice community.
Pirkei Avot provides us with a model for the ideal debate, singling out the disagreements between Hillel and Shammai as illustrative of “arguments for the sake of heaven.” Though these dueling schools maintained conflicting opinions about everything from how to light Chanukah candles to what constitutes grounds for divorce, Pirkei Avot maintains that their vigorous rivalry was always motivated by the pursuit of truth, not glory. If those on both sides of our contemporary social justice struggles would be similarly driven, victory would become irrelevant and we could all unite in our desire to move our entire community forward.
1 Pirkei Avot 5:17.
2 Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks. The Koren Siddur. Jerusalem: Koren Publishers Jerusalem, 2009. p. 673.
3 Pirkei Avot 5:17.
4 Numbers 16:3.
5 Numbers 16:32.
6 Rabbi Charles Savenor. JTS Torah Commentary. 1 July 2006. http://www.jtsa.edu/PreBuilt/ParashahArchives/5766/korah.shtml
“A Musical Maverick”
By Cantor Jonathan L. Friedmann, Ph.D., ’10 , AJRCA Professor of Jewish Music History
The Korachites were a class of priestly singers entrenched in the musical establishment of Jerusalem’s First Temple. Their music and poetry were integrated into the highly structured Temple system, and eleven biblical psalms bear their name (Pss. 42, 44–49, 84–85, 87–88). This is significant, as their patriarch, Korach, was killed centuries earlier for rebelling against the established tradition.
During the course of Israel’s wandering in the desert, Korach organized a community revolt against Moses’ authority (Num. 16:1–18:32). With the backing of chieftains, other men of repute, and scores of followers, Korach declared to Moses and Aaron: “You have gone too far! 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?” This populist movement challenged the idea that only certain priests could perform sacred tasks. Ordinary people, Korach maintained, also had a right to the ceremonial realm.
Perhaps not unlike the democratic synagogues of today, where laypeople can lead services and congregational singing is the norm, Korach and his supporters desired a more intimate relationship with ritual. In punishment for their defiance, the earth opened up and swallowed many of the rebels, including Korach, and the chieftains were consumed by fire. Communal stability, the story tells us, was too fragile to tolerate this anti-establishment push.
Music is not mentioned in the episode, but given the Korachites’ musical proclivities, we can speculate that their forefather was a musician as well. Historically and cross-culturally, music is typically a family trade, passed on from one generation to the next. Perhaps Korach introduced participatory song as a way of stirring and uniting his followers.
Korach’s revolt and its aftermath have some similarities with how musical innovations are often handled in the synagogue. If we imagine Moses as the head of a powerful ritual committee and Korach as an unconventional but popular singer-songwriter, we can understand both why the rebels were dealt with so harshly, and why their music carried on. New synagogue sounds threaten the solidity and continuity of communal ritual. However, over time, these changes can seep into worship services and become part of standard practice. No matter how much strength the leadership exerts, if the people want the music, it is exceedingly difficult to bar it from devotional use.
Korach’s music persisted with his sons and the populace. Eventually, the Korachites took the once-controversial songs into the rigid Temple system. What was once revolutionary became conventional.
From the Maqam Project
From Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Korach 5772/2012: “Trust”
Rabbi Menachem Creditor
The story of Korach might not seem obvious for discussing relationships. After all, Korach and his followers, after contesting the rights of Moses and Aaron to lead the Israelite people, were devoured when
“the ground under them burst asunder, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up with their households. …They went down alive into Sheol, with all that belonged to them; the earth closed over them and they vanished from the midst of the congregation. (Num. 16:31-33)”
Not what we pray for in healthy relationships, to say the least. And yet there is a message to be learned, perhaps in contrast to the Torah’s narrative. What was Korach’s crime? What was so awful that it merited this devastating a response? Korach, a cousin Moses and Aaron, rose up
“against Moses, together with two hundred and fifty Israelites, chieftains of the community, chosen in the assembly, men of repute. They combined against Moses and Aaron and said to them, ‘You have gone too far! 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?’ (Num. 16:2-3)”
The accusation, while certainly rebellious, is compelling. Korach’s assertions that “all the community are holy” and that God “is in their midst” don’t seem wrong. In fact, they are confirmed by other similar biblical phrases, such as “Let them make for Me a Sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. (Ex. 25:8)” and “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, Adonai your God, am Holy. (Lev. 19:2)” There is deep truth in Korach’s words, a truth which resonates for the community. We should remember that he managed to rouse more than 250 Israelites against Moses, who has, time and time again, been the agent of God’s Word and stood in the breach, protecting the people from God’s Wrath.
Korach’s charismatic ability led people against Moses. But what would have happened if Korach had channeled his righteous indignation and magnetic personality in the service of the People, offering Moses his help instead of trying to assert his own leadership? Korach could have become a revered teammate to Moses by offered his help, instead of questioning the authenticity of Moses’ authority.
And this suggests a lesson for those in collaborative leadership roles. Korach wanted a job Moses didn’t even want for himself, one which Moses’ reluctance made him supremely qualified to perform and for which Korach’s over-willingness made him especially unsuited. Think of what these two strong personalities, these two different people, could have achieved had they been in partnership for the sake of the people! Think about what beauty could have unfolded had Korach decided to trust Moses and participate in fulfilling the mission instead of undermining both.
Korach and his followers experienced a descent when the earth swallow them. But somehow, according to biblical tradition (see Num. 26:9), Korach’s children don’t die. Their descendants are later, in fact, credited with several chapters of Psalms, all of which reflect musically upon the enduring possibilities and values of life (see Ps. 49, for instance). As Rabbi Perry Netter has written, “Korach is the symbol of rebellion and conflict and despair; his sons are a symbol of hope.”
While every relationship comprised of people with strong personalities has its share of struggle, the possibilities embodied in trusting collaboration are hopeful beyond words.
From Rabbi Mishael Zion
Handling Opposition: Let the Earth Swallow or Rise to the Balcony
This commentary contains a letter from Rav Kook to his brother.
From Rabbi Jill Hammer
At Congregation Romemu
All the Staffs Blossomed sound cloud
From Rabbi Arthur Waskow
Korach: The earth receives and nurtures what is frozen — into seed 2001
From Rabbi Avram Davis
Korach – Salt: Covenant
Please click on link to this Youtube video
From Rabbi James Stone Goodman
Joseph hid three treasures in Egypt
one was revealed to Korach
one revealed to Antoninus son of Asviros
and one hidden away for the righteous
in the world to come. [BT, Pesachim 119a]
I went searching for the third treasure
In my dreams I was directed to Prague
Then in Prague by a bridge
You know the story —
A guard sent me home.
I dug up my back yard and found a document
Written in Hebrew with a little Arabic –
Ten miracles created bein hashemashot
between the suns at twilight
outside of time so to speak
built into creation at the end of the first day
before the Shabbat
created then for the world to catch up
so to speak –
The mouth of the earth that opened
the mouth of the prophetic donkey
the rainbow the manna the staff of Aaron
the shamir the writing and the pen and the tablets
some say the evil spirits/the jinn
and the grave of Moses and the ram of Abraham
some also say the tongs
made from the tongs — [Avot 5:9]
I showed this to my friend the surgeon
technology where there is no technology
the arc of discovery that we follow with hope
the saving of lives in ways we cannot quite imagine –
The world is spinning fast fast
and what we know will catch up
outspin the world in the future
then we will know what we could not know
at the right time
the right time —
Soon — the hidden moon of Tammuz
concealing the future
all the hidden possibilities that could save one of us
or all of us
C  D [1/2] E flat  F
Every Shabbat is characterized by a maqam
A musical figure
Hebrew cognate maqom
From Melissa Carpenter
Korach: Bald Demands
June 22, 2011
Korach, son of Yitzhar son of Kehat son of Levi, took— along with Datan and Aviram, sons of Eliav, and On, son of Pelet, descendants of Reuben— men from the children of Israel, 250 leaders of the assembly, well-known men of high reputation; and they rose up before Moses. They gathered against Moses and against Aaron, and they said to them: You have too much for yourselves! Because all the assembly, all of them, are holy, and God is in their midst; so why do you make yourselves leaders over the congregation of God? (Numbers/ Bemidbar 16:1-3)
Korach = shaven bald; icy
At first glance, Korach’s demand for power-sharing seems reasonable. By this time, Moses has delegated authority for administration and judging cases to 70 elders, delegated religious rituals to the priests (Aaron and two surviving sons), and delegated most of the disassembly and reassembly of the portable sanctuary to the tribe of Levi. But Moses remains God’s only mouthpiece, passing on all the instructions and laws he receives from God. If the people don’t do what God says, through Moses, God punishes them.
Yet, Korach argues, God is in the midst of the people, and we are all holy. Why do we have to take all our orders from Moses, when God can communicate directly with each of us? And when we need leaders, why can’t we choose our own?
Korach recruits a few leading malcontents from the tribe of Reuben, and 250 “leaders of the assembly” who want some of the power to create laws and to decide what the people will do next. In a democracy, they would be running for public office. But the government of the Israelites is more like a dictatorship, and the visible dictator is not God, but Moses.
The Torah gives us clues that the motivations of Korach, the ringleader of the revolt, are more complicated. First let’s look at Korach’s lineage.
Korach is a Levite from the clan of Kehat, and a first cousin of Moses and Aaron. If Aaron’s sons get to be priests, why shouldn’t he? Furthermore, the job of the Kehatites is to transport the holiest objects in the sanctuary, even the ark itself—but only after the priests have covered them with wrappings. Only Aaron and his sons are allowed to see the holy of holies. (See my blog, “Bemidbar: Don’t Look”.)
An ordinary Israelite might prefer not to risk death by looking at the holiest and most dangerous objects in the sanctuary. But Korach is already carrying these objects, well-wrapped; he is closely related to the priests; and he believes he is as holy as Aaron. Why should he be denied even a glimpse of the ark?
We can find more clues in Korach’s name. Korach means the one shaven bald, or the icy one.
The Torah warns the Israelites not to shave bald patches on their heads as a sign of mourning, like other Canaanite peoples. (However, a non-Israelite woman captured in battle gets to shave her head and mourn her parents for a month before her captor can marry her.) Israelites shaved their heads only as part of a long purification ritual, done for one of three reasons:
1) To re-enter the community and its religious life after recovery from a skin disease called tzara-at. According to the Talmud, people were stricken with tzara-at as a punishment for evil speech. Perhaps Korach had whispered against Moses and Aaron earlier, and in this week’s portion he has recovered and been purified.
2) To officially end a man or woman’s term as a nazir. A nazir vows to let their hair grow wild and abstain from all wine and grapes for a certain period. Korach might have taken the vow for a while to distinguish himself as an especially spiritual, but found that being a nazir was not enough for him.
3) As part of the ritual of consecration for both priests and Levites, when they commenced their service in the sanctuary. All the adult Levite men were shaven and consecrated in the wilderness of Sinai (Numbers/ Bemidbar 8:7) so their service could begin. At the time of Korach’s revolt, the people have moved to the wilderness of Paran, and the Levites’ hair has had time to grow out. But maybe Korach shaved a second time to demonstrate that he expected to be consecrated as a priest!
He accuses Moses and Aaron of making themselves leaders—because he is trying to make himself a leader.
Korach has a second meaning. Since kerach means ice, the name Korach also means “one who is icy”. In Genesis 31:40, Jacob refers to being exposed to “consuming heat by day, and ice (kerach) by night”.
Fire is a frequent metaphor for God in the Torah, and moments of fiery passion characterize those who serve God. But Korach is icy; he doesn’t understand fire, and he doesn’t understand God. That’s why he accuses Moses and Aaron of making themselves leaders over the congregation, when in fact God chose them, and they agreed only with reluctance. That’s why Korach accuses Moses and Aaron of having “too much”; he doesn’t understand that the ability to converse with God isn’t a material thing you can acquire. And that’s why Korach says everyone in the assembly is holy; he sees holiness as a legal right which God conferred on the children of Israel back at Mount Sinai.
Here’s what God actually said: You will be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation … (Exodus 19:6). You will be holy because I am holy … (Leviticus 19:2)
God did not say that the people were already holy. And God gave rules for good behavior along with both predictions of holiness. Holiness is a calling and a goal, not an entitlement. And God chose to use Moses to transmit the rules for behavior that will bring the people closer to holiness.
If the Israelites had a different mission, Korach’s icy alienation from God wouldn’t matter. If all they needed to do was settle down and accumulate material wealth, Korach’s demands could be rephrased as reasonable, even utopian, requests: Share the wealth. Let each individual follow their own intuition. To the extent that leaders are needed, choose leaders by democratic election.
But the Israelites have a higher calling; they are to dedicate their whole selves to serving God. This mission requires fire, not ice. It requires leaders with humility, who don’t indulge in the outward signs of purification (in those days, shaving). It requires people who are willing to work all their lives to improve their behavior, to become more holy, to keep their eyes open for a glimpse of God in everything, and to accept that they don’t have to see the holy of holies to be important.
From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
BLOOM (KORACH) 2008
It’s easy for women
to identify with Korach.
Why should all the power
reside in one set of hands?
Why shouldn’t we
be able to speak to God
on our own time, lighting
our own smudge-stick hearts?
Why should our bodies
need concealment, like
faces of the Holy Blessed One
hidden from creation?
Sometimes when we say this
the earth swallows us whole
like Persephone, eater
of pomegranate seeds.
Sometimes we emerge
like spring itself,
overflowing with the stories
we learned underground
and the plain walking-sticks
of everyone around us
burst into improbable bloom.
FRUIT (KORACH) 2009
in God’s hands
the staff of my body
and brings forth almonds
not a sign
that I am favored
or especially fit
for divine service
of whatever comes
From Rabbi Simon Jacobson
Korach: Atzilut Unplugged
Down to Earth Spirituality
– In Honor of Gimmel Tammuz –
In this week’s Torah portion Korach leads a mutiny against Moses. End of story: He is proven wrong and the earth swallows him and his fellow mutineers.
Why such a strange punishment? Is there no other way to penalize them? Indeed, we are told that the ‘mouth of the earth’ that consumed Korach was created at the beginning of time! (at the end of the six days of creation, on Friday at dusk). What makes the ‘mouth of the earth’ so important that it had to be formed at the outset of Genesis – waiting thousands of years for the day that it would open to ‘welcome’ Korach and his cronies!
This takes us back to Atzilut and materialism – the theme of the previous episodes in the last two Torah portions (see last two articles).
Korach did not arrive in a vacuum. Let’s put ourselves in his shoes. As a sharp man (a ‘pikach’) he was obviously closely following the discussions (debates) and events that came before him. He first heard that the people demanded meat. They were questioning the possibility of integrating G-dliness and the material world. Then Korach listened closely to G-d’s response – the revelation of Atzilut, which would bridge the two worlds of spirit and matter, of the Divine and the human.
Korach then witnessed the sin of the scouts, who challenged the very notion of being able to conquer a ‘land that consumes its inhabitants.’ Materialism is just too strong for us, they argued. Korach saw how they were severely punished for defying the very purpose of existence – to make a home for G-d in this lowliest world, in the world of the gross matter.
So now the stage is set. Here is a reenactment of Korach’s argument:
Korach: Ok, we now know that we cannot avoid the material world. On the contrary, we must engage it and transform it. We cannot escape into spirituality. Within the material universe is embedded the deepest spiritual energy and the highest level of the Divine Essence. Indeed, G-d Himself desired a home in this world.
So how do we tap into ‘meat’ and all material matter and release this powerful Divine energy? What options do we have? Let’s see: We cannot remain locked and insulated in synagogues and other spiritual oases. We cannot rely on prayer to G-d alone. He insisted that we enter the universe and use our own faculties. What else is there left to do?
We must – whether we like it or not – immerse ourselves into the material world and give it all we got.
So Korach argued: Why did you – Moses and Aaron – lift yourselves above all the rest of us? Is not the entire nation holy? Is not every one of us able to access G-d and our own inner spirituality to connect to G-d?
Strong argument there, Mr. Korach. Korach simply drew a logical conclusion from the events that he just witnessed. Had G-d told the people – ‘no, you cannot have meat,’ or had G-d in some way acknowledge that the scouts had a point when they argued that we cannot enter a ‘land that consumes its inhabitants,’ then Korach would not have made his case. But Korach clearly saw that G-d wants us to immerse into the material world, so he drew the next logical step, namely: We can and must follow G-d’s command and take on life, because we have all the power to do so. The exact opposite argument of the scouts.
The mere fact that you exercise leadership – Korach argues to Moses – demonstrates that not every person has the necessary sanctity and power to transform the universe. Which goes against the events we all just experienced with the ‘meat’ and scouts stories.
What was Korach’s error?
Yes we need meat, we need the material world. Ahh, but the meat has to come from Moses. And Atzilut does not mean that the lower worlds (all the way to the lowest stage of Asiyah) are G-dly. It means that the lower worlds could become G-dly if they allow Atzilut to connect them to the Divine.
What he apparently didn’t listen to closely enough was the consequence of indulging in meat consumption, which ultimately ended up choking its very consumers. Or perhaps Korach felt that he ‘knew’ how to overcome the challenge.
He also missed the point of Caleb and Joshua, who were nor seduced by the scouts’ arguments because they were connected to above – to Moses and to G-d (see last week’s article).
This explains the weird punishment of being swallowed by the earth. Ok, you think that that you can conquer a “land that consumes its inhabitants’ without the conscious connection to Atzilut. Here, look what happens to them: The very earth that you wanted to conquer ends up consuming you, exactly as the scouts had predicted. The scouts were wrong because instead of believing in G-d’s promise, they chose to question the entire premise of conquering the material, and they cowered in fear of the prospect. But Korach was equally wrong because he was arrogant in his confidence of being able to take on the world without the connection to a Rebbe, to Atzilut.
And indeed, from the very beginning of Genesis, the earth was endowed with this power and message, as if always reminding us: “G-d has sent you to earth to transform it into a Divine home. But never, ever forget the pitfalls of material earth, the difficulties and cruelties of existential loneliness. Never forget how vulnerable you are to the seduction of material desires as a result of G-d’s concealment on earth. Do not succumb to the illusion promised by the temptations and pleasure of this world. Transform it, but never, ever join it. From the beginning of time I carry inside of me – the earth tells us – the power to instantaneously consume you should you ever make that grave mistake.
So, in this triad of events, Korach illuminates for us yet another dimension of Atzilut and its importance in our lives. Atzilut serves as mediator between heaven and earth, between the Divine and the human. The scouts erred by leaning to far toward the Divine side and disregarding the ‘earthly’ dimension of Atzilut; Korach erred by opting for the ‘earthly’ and losing touch with the Divine, ultimately resulting in being consumed by the very earth that he immersed in.
Korach’s challenge is our very own challenge today: Will the shrouds of our material existence cause us to lose sight of the Atzilut within?
This challenge is especially apropos people grappling with Gimmel Tammuz: Will Gimmel Tammuz be seen as a day when Atzilut was unplugged from us (G-d forbid), or will it challenge us to dig deeper and find Atzilut in deeper and newer ways.
Korach’s message is that Atzilut never can be unplugged; it is only we that can become unplugged, or more correctly, perceive ourselves as being unplugged, when in truth Atzilut is always plugged into us and we into it. Our challenge is to recognize and acknowledge the connection, and then reveal it and act on it.
The Salant Center
eMussar – The Wisdom of Personal Growth
AROUND THE SHABBOS TABLE\PARSHAS KORACH
Onn ben Peles was one of Korach’s followers in his futile rebellion against Moshe Rabenu. Onn’s wife, realizing how foolish it was to challenge Moshe, devised a plan to save her husband.
She gave Onn strong drink and soon he fell asleep close to the time that he was supposed to join Korach and his ill-fated group. Next she uncovered her hair and sat at the entrance to her tent. When Korach’s messengers came to summons Onn – they turned away from Onn’s wife who was sitting with her hair uncovered – hence blocking the doorway.
Subsequently, when the earth swallowed up Korach and his group, Onn’s bed started slipping towards the abyss. Onn’s wife grabbed on to his bed and uttered a heartfelt prayer – and Onn was spared.
Next, she told Onn to go to Moshe Rabenu and beg his forgiveness. Onn said he was too embarrassed to face Moshe. Incredibly, Onn’s wife went in his stead. She approached Moshe with weeping, and begged forgiveness on behalf of her husband. Moshe came to Onn’s tent and said: “Come out. May HaShem forgive you!”
The power of Onn’s wife to: perceive the falsehood of Korach; to protect her husband from joining Korach’s company; to intercept Korach’s messengers who came to summon Onn; to intercede so that he not fall into the abyss; to beg forgiveness from Moshe Rabenu; and to receive Moshe’s pardon and personal visit – is remarkable, to say the least.
What was her secret and what was the source of her strength? The Midrash teaches that Onn’s wife fulfilled the verse; “The wisdom of the women builds the house.” The only true wisdom, according to the Ramchal is Yirat Shemayim – reverence of HaShem.
Hence, it was the Yirat Shemayim of Onn’s wife that engendered her phenomenal store of love, strength, wisdom, courage, and devotion. Mussar study is the path that leads us to Yirat Shemayim – and all the resultant wonderful attributes and virtues. May HaShem help us grow in our devotion to Mussar so that we can acquire the ultimate wisdom.
[Based on the Midrash HaGadol, Parshas Korach]
TODAY: Think for a moment how can you be more supportive of a loved one.
From Reb Sholom Brodt
Rosh Chodesh Tamuz 5770
The following is a translation intermingled with my understanding of a teaching from the Sfat Emet on Parshat Korach (5651, 119 years ago)
Arguments that end in Love and Peace
It is taught in the Mishna, Pirkei Avot 5:17, “Arguments that are not for the sake of Heaven will not last*. An example of this is the _machloke_t/argument of Korach and his entourage.”
*‘Will not last’ meaning that it will not come to a peaceful resolution. See further.
The Rabbis z”l taught, (Kidushim 30b) “A father and son, who are both immersed in the study of Torah at first become enemies of one another, but in the end they will love one another. “
This is the meaning of ‘argument for the sake of heaven’- an argument that ends in love; loving relationships. When arguments end in love, such arguments are called ‘wars of Hashem,’ ie wars to help one another come closer to Hashem, because both sides want to know the truth; and when, as a result of the argument, they do come closer to Hashem, because they now know more of the ‘Truth’, they love one another.
This is why such arguments ‘will last.’ Not only with the truth be discovered, and not only will there be love, but there will also be an everlasting quality to it. As we see, we continue to learn the arguments of Hillel and Shamai even though in practice we follow only one of them. This is because, in such truth seeking arguments, none of the opposing views are actually invalidated. As the Talmud says, both Hillel and Shamai were speaking the words of the Living G-d. There is true validity in both sides. Both speak truth (and we are true to both sides even though, in Halacha, we follow only the opinion that the Rabbis agreed upon).
The truth is that Shalom, peace, which is a ‘good attribute’, is achieved through argument, for it is not possible to have or make peace unless there are two sides. So long as the argument is for the sake of heaven, then we merit and achieve Shalom.
For it is true that every person has a special opinion/knowledge of Torah. Therefore, everyone who enters into argument must know that his fellow also has an opinion and knowledge of Torah, and therefore, one should not insist that his opinion alone must stand. Rather, they should seek the truth and then Hashem will enlighten their eyes and peace will be achieved as a result of the argument, from within the argument.
Truth and the pursuit of truth is the aspect of peace; according to the Holy Zohar part 2:197b, this is the aspect of Yosef HaTzadik.
So too it is in the world. For all things are born from male and female even though each has something ‘opposite’ of the other. As it says, in the creation of woman, she was created “kenegdo- against him” (Bereishis 2:18). Nevertheless, since both seek the same one thing, peace is achieved.
So too, concerning the inner dimension of the six work days of the week. Each day has a special quality/aspect. Each one is different from the other. Therefore, the holy Shabbos completes the world. The world was lacking rest. Rest/tranquility is the aspect of love- the love achieved at the conclusion of sincere, truth-seeking arguments. And then there is peace.
Note that immediately following the creation of the Shabbos day, it says “These are the ‘births’ of the Heavens and the Earth.” (Bereshis 2:4)
Academy for Jewish Religion/CA
Torah Reading for Week of June 6 – 12, 2010
“For Heaven’s Sake”
by Rabbi Diane Elliot, ’06
Our Torah tradition seems to present us with two kinds of enemies—those who are “other” like Amalek and the Philistines, attacking Israel and threatening its survival from without; and those who transform from “us,” to “other” as their words and actions threaten to unravel the very spiritual and moral fabric of the community from within.
In this week’s parashah we witness the painful and disturbing swiftness with which the unity of the Israelite people can shatter, swiftly reconfigured to “us” and “them,” when Korakh, a community leader of impeccable lineage separates himself from the kahal, drawing other leaders of the community into a rebellion against the authority of Moses and Aaron. In the ensuing spiritual showdown, orchestrated by Moses, the earth splits open, swallowing Korakh, the members of his household, and all their possessions, while 250 other leaders of the community who had stood with Korakh are consumed by G-d’s fire as they offer incense. When the people protest, G-d’s fury is unleashed upon them in a plague.
One classic interpretation of this troubling story is expressed in a passage from the Mishnah (Avot 5:17): “Controversy for the sake of heaven (makhloket she’hi l’shem shamayim) will in the end yield fruitful results, while that which is not for the sake of heaven will not. An example of controversy for the sake of heaven: that of Hillel and Shamai. An example of controversy not for the sake of heaven: that of Korakh.”
The sages imply something very profound here: the disastrous result of Korakh’s mutiny stems not from the relative merit of his complaint, but from the way he conducts the dispute. For is there not, after all, truth in Korakh’s claim, that we are all One before G-d, all holy? Had not the mishkan been built so that G-d’s Presence could manifest within each one of the Israelites and in the midst of the community, as well as through its prophetic and priestly leaders?
Contemporary Biblical scholar Avivah Zornberg invokes Levinas’ image of “the voice from another shore” to further unpack Korakh’s failure. In her analysis, Moses, heavily invested in speaking, tries until the last moment to engage Korakh in an interaction that might have a chance of restoring the integrity of the kahal. But after making the initial accusation, Korakh remains silent, unwilling to engage with the “voice from another shore” that irritates and annoys him, unwilling to enliven the space between Moses and himself because, the Midrash suggests, he is afraid of being won over.
A controversy for heaven’s sake, as my colleague Rabbi Shelly Lewis wrote last week, “assumes a bond of trust and affection between the interlocutors. It also assumes a willingness to listen, to learn, and to accept the perspective of another if it proves to be the best. The sides seek the best, the most wise solution.” Refusing to engage, to take even a single step into the gap that separates him from Moses and Aaron, Korakh generates an irreparable crack in the community, one that is mirrored by the crack in the earth that opens under him, swallowing all that he is and has. In his disengagement, his fear to let his challenge be challenged, he controverts the very truth he seeks to assert, invoking heaven in a way that, ultimately, is not for heaven’s sake.
These past ten days, following news of the situation currently unfolding off the shores of Gaza, I’ve read many passionate, conflicting interpretations and felt the painful, unsoothable tension of a seemingly intractable conflict once again escalating, both in the Middle East and within our own communities. I’ve been tempted to ask, as I imagine the community of Israelites in the wilderness, exhausted and traumatized, must also have been asking as they witnessed the confrontation between Korakh and Moses: Who has the ear of heaven? Who speaks with the voice of heaven? Who can be trusted?
But to ask these kinds of questions ultimately pulls me back from a terrifyingly shaky edge on which I need to stand—the place where I have to admit that I don’t know what’s going on. This is the groundless ground of true engagement, the Void between polarities from which, our mystics teach, all Creation was birthed. Korakh’s name, which comes from the Hebrew root meaning “bald” or “absent,” hints at his inability to stay present in the face of this very Void (Ayin) in which opposites dissolve and something new can emerge. And so he falls, leaving a hole in the heart of the world, depriving the community of the richness he might have offered in service of the Holy, if only all parties had been able to stay engaged, present, and vulnerable. I pray that we may somehow learn at last to rest together in the place of Ayin, with humility and love, inviting the Light that can shine only through the broken shards of our certainties, our self-righteousness, our most dearly held convictions.
And On the son of Peleth (16:1)
Said Rav: On the son of Peleth was saved by his wife. She said to him, “What matters it to you? Whether the one remains leader or the other becomes leader, you will be but a follower.” Said he: “But what can I do? I have taken part in their counsel, and they have sworn me to be with them”… She said: “Sit here, and I will save you.” She gave him wine to drink, intoxicated him and laid him down within [the tent]. Then she sat down at the entrance and loosened her hair. Whoever came [to summon him] saw her and retreated.
Meanwhile, Korach’s wife joined in and said to him: “See what Moses has done! He himself has become king; his brother he appointed High Priest; his brother’s sons he has made the vice High Priests. If terumah is brought, he decrees: Let it be for the priest. If the tithe is brought, which belongs to you [i.e., to the Levite], he orders: Give a tenth part thereof to the priest. Moreover, he has had your hair cut off (cf. Numbers 8:7) and makes sport of you as though you were dirt… ; for he was jealous of your hair.” Said he to her, “But he has done likewise!” She replied, “Since all the greatness was his, he said also, ‘Let me die with the Philistines’…”
Thus it is written, “A wise woman builds her house” (Proverbs, 14:1) — this refers to the wife of On the son of Peleth; “but the foolish woman destroys it with her hands” (ibid.) — this refers to Korach’s wife.
(Talmud, Sanhedrin 109b)
And you desire also the priesthood? (16:10)
If Moses, who personifies the sefirah (Divine attribute) of Truth, said “I, too, desire it,” this was no mere debating tactic: Moses truly desired the position of Kohen Gadol for himself. This means that Korach’s desire for the highest spiritual state attainable by man was, in and of itself, a positive thing. The difference between Korach and Moses in this was that Korach acted upon this desire, in defiance of the Divine decree.
This explains why our Torah reading is named “Korach.” The Talmud tells us that it is forbidden to name one’s child after a wicked person, in keeping with the rule, “The memory of the righteous should be to blessing, and the name of the wicked should rot” (Proverbs 10:7). So how is it that an entire section in the Torah carries the name of a person whose deeds were most negative and destructive?
But the name “Korach,” as the name of a Parshah in Torah, pays tribute to the positive aspect of Korach’s “rebellion”. While the story of Korach comes to teach us what not to do — not to act on even the most lofty of ambitions, if such action is contrary to the will of G-d — it also comes to teach us that we should desire and yearn for the highest ideals, even those which we are prohibited from actually attaining.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
It brought forth blossoms, produced budding fruit, and bore ripe almonds (17:23)
Ness, the Hebrew word for miracle, means “elevation”. The purpose of a miracle is to elevate those who experience it to a higher consciousness, to a recognition of the Divine reality which underlies the natural reality we encounter in our everyday lives.
There are two types of miracles: a) miracles which utterly disregard the laws of nature; b) miracles which, though they may be no less “impossible” by the standard norms and no less obvious a display of the hand of G-d, nevertheless occur by natural means, employing natural phenomena and processes to achieve their ends.
At first glance, it might seem that the second miracle’s “need” to resort to natural processes makes it less of a miracle. In truth, however, a miracle that oporates through nature is more elevating — hence, more “miraculous” — than a miracle that supersedes it.
A sudden, shattering change has not transformed nature — it has only gone beyond it. But when a miracle is integrated into the workings of nature, nature itself is elevated. Otherwise stated: a supra-natural miracle liberates the person who experiences it from the natural order; a natural miracle liberates the natural order itself.
The bearing of fruit by a dry stick of wood would surely have sufficed as a Divine sign of Aaron’s choseness. But G-d did not simply make almonds appear on Aarons staff. Rather, He stimulated in it the full natural process of budding, blossoming, and the emergence and the ripening of the fruit. Aaron’s staff defied natures laws and restrictions, yet it conformed to the phases of growth that the almond naturally undergoes. It transcended nature, but did so on nature’s own terms.
(The Chassidic Masters)
From Rav Kook
Korach: The Secret of the Incense
“Aaron took (the fire-pan) as Moses had told him… He put the incense in it, and it atoned for the people. He stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was checked.” (Num. 17:12-3)
From where did Moses learn the secret power of incense to arrest plagues?
The Gift of the Angel of Death
According to the Midrash (Shabbat 89a), when Moses went up to accept the Torah, the angels bestowed him with various presents. “You ascended on high, taking a captive (the Torah), receiving gifts among men” (Psalms 68:19). Even the Angel of Death presented Moses with a gift: the secret of the incense.
What is special about incense, that it has the power to stay death? And why not take advantage of this capability to permanently rescind death?
Binding Together All Forces
All forces in the world, even the forces of death and destruction, contribute to the building and perfection of the universe. When all the worlds and their forces, both spiritual and physical, draw together, each one provides a unique function. From this standpoint, the force of death also serves as a force of life.
The unique character of the incense reflects this message of harmony and inter-connectivity. The Hebrew word for incense, “ketoret”, is related to the word kesher, meaning a ‘bind’ or ‘knot.’ The incense unites together the core essence of all forces – life, matter, and spirit — according to the extraordinary recipe that God prescribed in the Torah.
The ability to overcome destructive forces, at a time when they rule freely and have not yet been converted into constructive and preserving forces, was an exceptional phenomenon. This hidden knowledge was granted only to Moses. This gift from the Angel of Death demonstrated the inner surrender of the forces of death to the pure splendor illuminating that faithful messenger, as he revealed the light of the Torah of life.
What is the root of the incense’s secret power? The ketoret also encompasses the forces of destruction, so that they may contribute to building and perfecting the universe. (Thus we find that the ketoret bound together many fragrances, included galbanum (chelbenah), which, despite its pungent, unpleasant odor, was an essential ingredient.) In this way, these forces realize their ultimate purpose, to build and complete. True attainment of this transformation, however, will only be in the distant future, as the path for sweetening the bitterness of the universe is hidden deeply within the divine secrets of Creation.
Only as a temporary measure for the need of that hour, the harmonious quality of the incense was able to stay the power of death. The secret given to Moses demonstrated the comprehensiveness of the Torah, and the unique splendor of those who study Torah — the source of peace, love, life, and rectification for all worlds and their myriad inhabitants.
(adapted from Ein Eyah vol. IV, p. 213)
Copyright © 2006 by Chanan Morrison
Korach: Separation and Connection
“The entire congregation is holy, and God is with them! Why do you raise yourselves over God’s community?” (Num. 16:3)
This was the battle cry of Korach’s rebellion — a complaint that, at first glance, seems perfectly justified. Did not the entire people hear God speak at Sinai? It would seem that Korach was only paraphrasing what God Himself told Moses (Lev. 19:2), “Speak to the entire community of Israel and tell them: you shall be holy, for I, your God, am holy.” Why indeed should only the Levites and the kohanim serve in the Temple? Why not open up the divine service to the entire nation?
What was Korach’s mistake?
Havdalah and Chibur
Both in our individual lives, and in society and the nation as a whole, we find two general principles at work. This first is Havdalah — withdrawal or separation — and the second is Chibur — connection or belonging.
These are contradictory behaviors, yet both are needed. This truth is most obvious on the individual level. In order to reflect on our thoughts and feelings, we need privacy. In order to develop and clarify our ideas and insights, we need solitude. In order to attain our spiritual aspirations, we need to withdraw within our inner self.
Only by separating from society can we achieve these goals. The distracting company of others robs us of seclusion’s lofty joy. It restricts and diminishes the creative flow from our inner spring of pure and joyful life.
This same principle applies equally to the nation as a whole. In order for the Jewish people to actualize their spiritual potential, they require Havdalah from the other nations. “It is a nation that dwells alone” (Num. 23:9).
Similarly, within the Jewish people it is necessary to separate the tribe of Levi, and from Levi, the kohanim, from the rest of the nation. These sectors have special obligations and laws, a reflection of their inner character and purpose.
Separation In Order To Connect
Yet separation is not a goal in and of itself. Within the depths of Havdalah lies a hidden aim of Chibur, being part of the whole and influencing it. The isolated forces thus have a positive impact on the overall character; their influence results in a tremendous inner advance in holiness. These forces specialize in developing talents and ideas that, as they spread, become a source of blessing for all. As they establish their unique traits and paths, life itself progresses and acquires purpose.
We find this theme of Havdalah-Chibur on many levels. The human race is separate from all other forms of life. Through this Havdalah, humanity can elevate itself and attain an encompassing character that contains the elevation of the entire world. The Jewish people is separate from the other nations, a separateness that enables them to act as a catalyst for the elevation of all peoples — a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6).
The tribe of Levi, as it secludes itself with its special responsibilities, is ennobled and maintains its unique nature. It sanctifies itself until it becomes a blessing for the entire nation. And the kohanim with their special holiness are elevated until they draw forth “ruach hakodesh” (divine inspiration) for the benefit of the entire nation, thus realizing its highest spiritual faculties.
The Correct Order
Now we can understand Korach’s mistake. The Zohar (Mishpatim 95a) teaches:
“The Sitra Achra (the ‘Other Side,’ the forces of evil) begins with Chibur (connection) and ends with Pirud (division). But the Side of Holiness begins with Pirud and ends with Chibur.”
The correct path, the path of holiness, follows this order: separation and then connection. Separation for the sake of connection. But Korach’s philosophy (and similar ideologies, such as Communism) took the opposite approach. They sought the simplistic inclusiveness of all, binding everything into one uniform package, from the outset. They boastfully claimed to unite all together — “The entire congregation is holy” — but this approach causes all beauty and nobility to be lost in dull uniformity. In the end, darkness dims the clarity of thought. The repressive, totalitarian approach leads to disunity, as all parts yearn to break apart in order to express their unique nature. “The Sitra Achra begins with Chibur and ends with Pirud.”
(adapted from Orot HaKodesh vol. II, p. 439)
~ Rabbi Shefa Gold’s Torah Journeys ~
NUMBERS 16:1 – 18:32
This Torah portion tells the story of Korach who led a rebellion against Moses during the journey through the wilderness. Moses accepts the challenge. The earth opens up and swallows the rebels whose firepans are beaten into coverings for the altar. Each of the twelve tribes sets up a rod marked with their name before the Tent of Meeting. In the morning Aaron’s rod has budded, blossomed, and produced ripe almonds.
WHAT IS THE BLESSING that comes from full-out rebellion? Whining, complaining, foot-dragging, depression, and debilitating exhaustion are pushed aside as Doubt stands up and cries aloud, “Let’s put my truth to the test!”
Korach airs all the doubt that has been festering within us. He stirs it up and lets it be heard. Hidden doubt eats us up from the inside, draining strength that we need for the journey. When our righteous indignation mixes with fear and greed and envy and ambition, and brings all those feelings out into the open, then all those deep-seated places of slavery can be transmuted by compassion and wise perspective. We can then embark on a path of healing.
Korach forces the hand of Truth. Without Korach, we grumble along, swallowing our bitter questions and doubt, and gradually lose our vision and power. Korach represents a stage of development that is crucial to finding our voice. Korach’s fate is ambiguous; it is not clear whether this quintessential rebel is punished or dies. In our tradition, Korach, the apparent villain of the story, is nevertheless tendered the great honor of having his name associated with twelve of the most beautiful psalms. Clearly, the one who found his voice passed this facility on to his children who became great singers in the Temple.
KORACH IS THE POWER IN US THAT HAS NOT YET MATURED, which has not yet been tempered by humility. In one of those psalms, Korach’s children describe the nature of power that has finally matured. “Kindness and Truth are met together,” they sing. “Justice and Peace have kissed.”1
As a young rebel, my truth sometimes lacked kindness. My passion for justice sometimes shattered peace. Yet what a blessing it was for the power of Korach to rise in me and teach me that my pointed challenges and questions were holy. Over a lifetime of mistakes and repentance, wisdom gradually emerges to call together kindness and truth and to kindle the love between justice and peace.
The firepans, used for offering by those who joined Korach and who died in the fire of rebellion, were later hammered into plating for the altar of sacrifice. Gathered from the charred remains of confrontation, the firepans had become holy. Searching through the rubble of my own rebellions, I find that a great deal of my arrogance has been burned up in the fires of experience, but there in the ruins I also find treasures: my passion for truth, my holy questions.
THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE
OUR CHALLENGE IS TO ALLOW OUR KORACH VOICE TO EMERGE in its time and to listen carefully to its nascent power. Be aware of what danger you unleash, as well as the potential for refinement and maturity. Listen to the sound of your impatience, your ambition, your jealousy, your greed. Also hear its passionate life-force.
“Korach took…”2 are the first words of this portion. Grammatically, the “taking” in this verse has no object. Taking, here, is a description of Korach consciousness – power that has not yet matured. Korach’s untempered drive is the slavery from which he must free himself.
In his book Ishmael, Daniel Quinn divides the world into Takers and Leavers. Takers base their power on the fundamental misconception that they are separate from the world and that the world was created for them. Takers exert their power by consuming the world.
Our spiritual challenge then, is to call forth our raw power and engage in the process of its maturation. To do this we must shatter the myth of our separateness and begin to know ourselves in connection. And we must be able to discern the damage that our “taking” has done.
In the aftermath of Korach’s rebellion, Aaron, as High Priest, takes his stand between the dead and the living, and thus ends the plague. The plague of our own time is the unchecked immature power that threatens to consume the world. To stand as High Priest between the dead and the living is to know clearly the destructive aspect of our power and to take a stand in fierce loving protection of the sacredness of all life.
THE FINAL TEST OF POWER is whether it is life-giving. In the story of Korach, God devises a test to discern the face of mature power. Each of the twelve tribes places its own staff , a symbol of its power, into the holy center of the community. The next day it is revealed that Aaron’s staff has sprouted, blossomed, and produced almonds.
This is how we know when our own power has matured. We look for the sprout, the blossom, and the fruit. What have we grown by our power? What beauty have we brought into the world? And how, with our power, have we nurtured ourselves and others?
1 Psalm 85:11
2 Numbers 16:1
For Guideline for Practice please click link to website.
Rav Dov Ber Pinson comments: “True, lasting shalom, is not sameness.”
This reminds me of a point made by Ken Wilbur commenting about many in the boomer generation (including older folks like me). He said that many in our generation at the stage of consciousness development which he called Level 6, or pluralism, suffer from “boomeritis.” This is the idea that since we’re all equal, we’re all basically the same. Everyone’s experience is equally valuable and everyone’s views are equally valid. In some Jewish Renewal circles this got expressed as “everyone’s a rebbe.”
The good news about boomeritis: it can be a strong affirmation of the value of every human being, regardless of religion, race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.
The bad news is the individual shadow and social shadow. The individual shadow is narcisism. If my views are automatically as good as yours, I can just assert mine and don’t have to bother to understand yours. The social shadow is what happens when communities and nations fail to acknowledge that in vital things like producing food, practicing medicine, running government, and leading a people, not everyone is equal. I may be advanced at soup making but only a beginning gardner. Trust me, you would not want to put me in charge of the nation’s food production.
If you have a question about the consequences of boomeritis on a large scale, just ask the survivors of the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia in the 1970s, or Robert Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe today.
Korach is the archetype and poster child, 3000 years ahead of time, for boomeritis.
Reb Zalman says that this world is like one great body. Each people, each tradition and each person, is an organ in that body. We are all precious, and all necessary. The earth needs all her organs. But we are not all the same. The body needs the heart, the lungs, the liver, etc. Ken Wilbur calls this level of consciousness, Level 7, the integral level.
What is God consciousness? It is believing, knowing, that God sent me here for a purpose, and seeking to fulfill God’s purpose for me rather than my own. Reb Zalman says that we should pray every day, “Please deploy me according to Your will.”
From Rav DovBer Pinson
The Torah portion of Korach begins with a rebellion against the leadership of Moses and his brother Aaron.
Moses is the leader of the Israelites and Aaron, their high priest.
“Korach…along with Dasan and Aviram…together with two hundred and fifty men chieftains of the congregation…all men of repute…assembled against Moshe…and said to them, “You take too much upon yourselves, the entire congregation are all holy… So why do raise yourselves above the assembly? (Bamidbar, Chap 16:1-3)
On the surface it seems that their argument makes perfect sense. If, in fact, the entire congregation is holy, why then would we need to appoint one leader, one high priest. Korach’s essential argument is for peace and equality.
However, Korach was missing an important point.
The Zohar, on this week’s portion (Zohar, 3: 176b) explains that Shabbat is the quintessential definiton of peace and harmony, Shalom.
True, lasting shalom, is not sameness. Shabbat is separated from the weekday, and still, they, the six days of the week and Shabbat, converge to create a single unit of a week. So too, is peace. A symphony of single notes, a blending of divergent ideas and expressions, all working towards a common score, creating a perfect harmony.
Shalom is the elimination of hostile conflict, but not the elimination of individuality. To create perfect harmony we must find shared common interest and goals, but not eliminate individuality in the process.
In response to Korach’s rebellion, Moses replies, “Boker VeYada Hashem- In the morning Hashem will make known who is…”
Moses is telling Korach “at night it seems as though all is equal, in the dark we do not see differences, however, come morning, you will see that each of us are individuals and unique. Though we are all holy, we are not all the same. Each of us have our own unique qualities that we need to contribute.”
Moses is also hinting to Korach that just like there is night and day, and Hashem is the one that made them different and gave each its own function, the same is with people. No two people are the same. Each person has their own challenges and talents, each one of us is here to fulfill our own personal Tikun/ soul perfection.
The Energy of the Week:This week is an auspicious time to reach a resolution of any conflict that is manifesting in your life. This weeks energy gives us the strength to recognize the other person’s point of view and have them see ours, and ultimately realize that while “No two people have the same opinion” (Talmud) this does not have to be the source of conflict, rather the source of attaining greater clarity, and a perfect, multi-faceted harmony.
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *
Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.