A Few Thoughts on Korach

This week’s parasha us Korach, Numbers 16:1-18:32 begins with a Moses’ uncle, Korach (or Korah in English) challenging Moses for his leadership position in regard to Bnei Israel. It is very easy, even quite natural to blame Korach for his attempted coup of Moses’ leadership, his bid to seize power and authority that was not given him. 

“You’ve gone too far! All the community is holy—all of them—and ADONAI is with them! Then why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of ADONAI?”

Numbers 16:3

Rabbi Sacks, z”l, began his commentary on this parasha by asking “What exactly was wrong in what Korach and his motley band of fellow agitators said?” (https://rabbisacks.org/korach-5781/) Though he set the stage by asking what was wrong with Korach’s accusations against Moses, I am somewhat concerned about his negative description of those he gathered around himself. Granted, before challenging Moses, Korach (himself a Levite) in essence, counted the cost and apparently strengthened his position before he challenged Moses. 

Now Korah, son of Izhar son of Kohath son of Levi, and sons of Reuben—Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth—rose up against Moses and took 250 men from Bnei-Yisrael, men of renown who had been appointed to the council. They assembled against Moses and Aaron.

Numbers 16:1-3

Also, keep in mind that Korach and his clan already had been given a great responsibility by HaShem.

They were responsible for the Ark, the table, the menorah, the altars, and the implements of the Sanctuary used in service with them, the curtain and all involved with its use.

Numbers 3:31-32

So Korach had an established position in hierarchy of his clan and must have been an impressive leader to have been able to gather 250 men of renown and leaders in their own rights (see Numbers 1:16). These council leaders chosen by their clans and appointed to assist Moses in leading and judging Bnei Israel were swayed by the enticing words of Korach. Consider for a moment the census count in Numbers 1:46, the total men counted was 603,550, which means that Korach’s coup was populated by 0.04% of the census count.

In the end, the HaShem judged the rebellion, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram and their families lost their lives, “…they with all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol; the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly” (Numbers 16:33). As for 250 men of renown “…fire came out from the LORD and consumed the two hundred fifty men offering the incense” (Numbers 16:35). But sadly, though this was the end of Korach and those he gathered to assist in his rebellion, things did not return to normal. The next day a general revolt arose against Moses and Aaron, by people who felt that HaShem’s judgement was too harsh, blaming Moses and Aaron for HaShem’s actions, “You have killed the people of the LORD” (Numbers 16:41). HaShem judged this rebellion as well and in the end, “Those who died by the plague were fourteen thousand seven hundred, besides those who died in the affair of Korah” (Numbers 16:49). Thus 2.45% of the total census died due to a rebellion started by 0.04%.

When I was studying this parasha, I was reminded of another rebellion in the making against the plans of HaShem. Recorded in the book of Acts is the account of the Sanhedrin attempted to censure Yeshua’s disciples, forbidding them to propagate the teachings of their risen Lord.

But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. Then he said to them, “Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!”

Acts 5:34-39

In a manner, the Sanhedrin’s actions were traveling the same path as Korach. At Shavuot, HaShem empowered the nascent ecclesia to proclaim the kingdom of God and the messiahship of Yeshua to the world. In their rejection of Yeshua, most of the members of the Sanhedrin “became enraged and wanted to kill them (the disciples)” (Acts 5:33). But as it is written, Rabbi Gamaliel tempered their response reminding those gathered that they did not want to be found fighting against God.

We find ourselves in a similar situation today. In the last year political tensions have risen to a feverous pitch, turning brother against brother as well as sister against sister over ideological platforms that have almost taken on sacred significance. Each side thinks, knows with great assurance that the other is wrong, claiming in so many words that the other has “gone too far!” Zealots have taken to the streets, each sure their cause, their platform is correct. In the end, we are not seeing shalom, but chaos. In fact, the cacophony of accusations, even when some of the accusations are valid, are so chaotic that many do not even know what or how to pray to find the way back to the light. Many of the voices striving for our attention are not motivated by the needs or the good of the people of the advancement of the kingdom of God, rather they are motivated, like Korach, by self-interest and self-advancement.

In the days and weeks ahead, I suggest that we concentrate a little less on the chaos around us while focusing a little more on these three passages of Scripture. The first one because it tells us what HaShem expects, the second because it reminds us of who we are and how we should act, and the third because we often just do not know how to pray.

He has told you, humanity, what is good, and what ADONAI is seeking from you: only to practice justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8

“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:35

“Therefore, pray in this way: ‘Our Father in heaven, sanctified be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Matthew 6:9-10

* All Scripture references are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

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