Telephone Torah Study: Korach


This week on our Telephone Torah Study (Thursday 4-5pm) we’ll study Parshah Korach, Numbers 16:1 – 18: 32. We’ll face the serious rebellion of Korach against Moses, God’s dramatic punishment, and how Aaron saves the congregation.

Jump to: Suggested reading | Selected Verses of the Week | Portion Summary

To join in on the conference call, please dial 702-851-4044, when prompted punch in 2, then our pass code 22252#.

We’ll base our discussion on “He stood between the living and the dead”, Rabbi Lisa’s commentary used last year as the URJ’s official D’var Torah.

In the middle of Parashat Korach comes a short story that I find to be one of the most moving in all of Torah. It arrives unexpectedly in the midst of yet another chilling story of rebellion. The parashahbegins with more than 250 “Israelites, chieftains of the community, chosen in the assembly, men of repute,” who, under the leadership of Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and On turn against Moses and Aaron, saying: “You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and the Eternal is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the Eternal’s congregation?” (Numbers 16:1-3).

In their accusation, the leaders of the rebellion might seem to echo God’s own language at Mount Sinai, calling the Israelites “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (goy kadosh)” (Exodus 19:6). Their logic, that when all are holy, none is above another, sounds right. But if the “rebels” merely echo God’s earlier sentiment, why does their rebellion anger God so much that the earth opens up and swallows them?

Twentieth-century Jewish theologian Martin Buber1 explains God’s remarks at Mount Sinai by calling our attention to the “if” clause: ” If you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession . . . you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” (Exodus 19:5-6). Korah’s error, teaches Buber, is in thinking that holiness is a given rather than a state that each of us must strive toward, working in partnership with God.

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Selected verses of the week:

16:22. They (Moses and Aaron) fell on their faces and said, “O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, if one man sins, shall You be angry with the whole congregation?”

17:13. He (Aaron) stood between the dead and the living, and the plague ceased.

17:23. And on the following day Moses came to the Tent of Testimony, and behold, Aaron’s staff for the house of Levi had blossomed! It gave forth blossoms, sprouted buds, and produced ripe almonds.

Summary of Korach Torah Portion:

The Levite Korah son of Izhar joined with the Reubenites Dathan and Abiram sons of Eliab and On son of Peleth and 250 chieftains of the Israelite community to rise up against Moses. Moses told Korah and his band to take their fire pans and put fire and incense on them before God. Moses sent for Dathan and Abiram, but they refused to come.

The next day, Korah and his band took their fire pans and gathered the whole community against Moses and Aaron at the entrance of the Tabernacle.

The Presence of the Lord appeared to the whole community, and God told Moses and Aaron to stand back so that God could annihilate the others. Moses and Aaron fell on their faces and implored God not to punish the whole community. God told Moses to instruct the community to move away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, and they did so, while Dathan, Abiram, and their families stood at the entrance of their tents. Moses told the Israelites that if these men were to die of natural causes, then God did not send Moses, but if God caused the earth to swallow them up, then these men had spurned God. Just as Moses finished speaking, the earth opened and swallowed them, their households, and all Korah’s people, and the Israelites fled in terror. And a fire consumed the 250 men offering the incense. God told Moses to order Eleazar the priest to remove the fire pans — as they had become sacred — and have them made into plating for the altar to remind the Israelites that no one other than Aaron’s offspring should presume to offer incense to God. The next day, the whole Israelite community railed against Moses and Aaron for bringing death upon God’s people. A cloud covered the Tabernacle and the God’s Presence appeared.

God told Moses to remove himself and Aaron from the community, so that God might annihilate them, and they fell on their faces. Moses told Aaron to take the fire pan, put fire from the altar and incense on it, and take it to the community to make expiation for them and to stop a plague that had begun, and Aaron did so. Aaron stood between the dead and the living and halted the plague, but not before 14,700 had died.

God told Moses to collect a staff from the chieftain of each of the 12 tribes, inscribe each man’s name on his staff, inscribe Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi, and deposit the staffs in the Tent of Meeting. The next day, Moses entered the Tent and Aaron’s staff had sprouted, blossomed, and borne almonds.

God instructed Moses to put Aaron’s staff before the Ark of the Covenant to be kept as a lesson to rebels to end their mutterings against God. But the Israelites cried to Moses, “We are doomed to perish!” God assigned the Levites to Aaron to aid in the duties of the Tent of Meeting. God prohibited any outsider from intruding on the priests as they discharged the duties connected with the Shrine, on pain of death. And God gave Aaron and the priests all the sacred donations and first fruits as a perquisite for all time for them and their families to eat. And God gave them the oil, wine, grain, and money that the Israelites brought. But God told Aaron that the priests would have no territorial share among the Israelites, as God was their portion and their share.

God gave the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their share in return for the services of the Tent of Meeting, but they too would have no territorial share among the Israelites. God told Moses to instruct the Levites to set aside one-tenth of the tithes they received as a gift to God.

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