Welcome to this week’s Torah portion, which is called Korach (Korah).
· Numbers 16:1–18:32
· 1 Samuel 11:14–12:22
· Acts 5:1–11
"Korach son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and certain Reubenites — Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth — became insolent and rose up against Moses.” (Numbers 16:1–2)
In last week’s Parasha, Shelach Lecha, the seeds of rebellion were sown as the Israelites threatened to replace Moses as their leader.
So great was their fear of the giants in the Promised Land, and so great was their unbelief that they would be able to overcome those giants, that they wanted to forsake the promises of YAH and return to Egypt.
In this week’s Torah study, the rebellion continues with the mutiny against Moses’ leadership by a man named Korach (קֹרַח), which means baldness, ice, hail, or frost.
The Abomination of Strife and Division
YAH loves peace and the RUACH HAKODESH (HOLY SPIRIT) dwells in peace (shalom).
YAHUVEH hates strife, discord, and division between brothers, calling the one who sows them an abomination:
“These six things YAH hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him: … one who sows discord among brethren.” (Proverbs 6:16, 19)
To highlight this sin, the Scripture portion this week is also called the Parasha of Machloket (Strife), since Korach created division, strife, and disaster within the community through his rebellion, discontent, and dirty politics.
In fact, the name Korach is derived from ‘Korcha’, which means ‘split’.
With an utter lack of humility, Korach, who was a Levite, rose up against Moses, joining forces with Datan and Aviram, who were from the tribe of Reuben, along with On, son of Pelet, and 250 respected chieftains from the Israelite community.
But what charge did the rebels have against Moses?
They accused him of exalting himself over the community:
“They gathered together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, ‘You take too much upon yourselves, for all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and YAH is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of YAHUVEH?’” (Numbers 16:3)
In fact, this sin that they accused Moses of was, in reality, their own sin. Sadly, many are guilty of such self-deception and projection.
It is vital to realize that people often unknowingly judge others for the very sins that they themselves are committing.
“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” (Romans 2:1)
Moreover, wicked people don't necessarily realize that their deeds are evil, having internally justified themselves that their way is the right way. This in no way negates the seriousness of that sin, however.
The Genesis of Discord and Strife
Wisdom calls for discerning the underlying motivation of a brother creating strife before making judgments and issuing condemnations. And this is just what Moses did.
Moses knew the reason for Korach’s discord – the dark desire that lurked in his heart to exalt himself and the Levitical priesthood to the position YAHUVEH had expressly granted to the Aaronic Priesthood.
Since YAHUVEH Himself had made the Priesthood and outlined the duties of the Levites, they acted in rebellion against the authority of YAHUVEH.
Moses pinpointed the problem when he said, “Hear now, you sons of Levi: Is it a small thing to you that the GOD of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to Himself, to do the work of the tabernacle of YAHUVEH, and to stand before the congregation to serve them; and that He has brought you near to Himself, you and all your brethren, the sons of Levi, with you?" (Numbers 16:8–10)
Not too long before their rebellion, YAH chose the Levites to be caretakers of the Holy Tabernacle – the structure and its vessels – as servants to the Aaronic Priesthood.
While all Levites serve YAH, Aaron and his descendants held the special appointment of being able to approach the altar to perform sacrifices. The Kohen HaGadol (High Priest) could even enter the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant stood, a status that would certainly stir some hearts to great envy.
Moses pointedly asked the group, “Are you seeking the priesthood also?”
The Word of YAHUVEH warns us against this sort of self-aggrandizing ambition as it brings with it great evil.
“For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” (James 3:16)
Envy and selfish ambition cause all kinds of trouble in our personal lives, not only at home or at work, but also in congregations and fellowships as those who are neither qualified nor anointed vie for positions YAH never intended them to occupy.
Death and Separation: The Consequence of Strife
“Moses sent a summons to Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab; but they said, ‘We will not come up.’” (Numbers 16:12)
Korach sinned by coveting the more prestigious role of the Aaronic Priesthood, rather than that of Levitical servanthood. Unlike Datan and Aviram, he had the courage to confront Moses directly, face to face.
During this confrontation, Datan and Aviram seemed to remain in their tents. They sinned by rebelling against Moses’ authority over them as YAH’s divinely appointed leader. When Moses called for them, they replied, “Lo na’aleh (we won’t go up).”
Ironically, those who refused to “go up” to negotiate peace with Moses ended up “going down” to their deaths. The earth swallowed them up as well as their families and Korach's family alive.
“So they and all those with them went down alive into the pit; the earth closed over them, and they perished from among the assembly." (Numbers 16:33)
The other 250 in the group, who were offering incense to YAHUVEH and, therefore, elevating themselves to the position of the Aaronic priesthood, were consumed by fire. (Numbers 16:35)
The firepans on which they were offering incense were pounded into copper plating for the altar, a visible warning for the Levites to stop encroaching on the Tabernacle and assuming the responsibilities of the Aaronic Priesthood.
It also served as a reminder to the community of Israelites that sowing strife, questioning YAH's leadership, and exalting themselves to positions of leadership ultimately lead to their own destruction.
“A worthless person, a wicked man ... he sows discord. Therefore his calamity shall come suddenly; Suddenly he shall be broken without remedy.” (Proverbs 6:12–15)
WISDOM and Godly Company: Avoiding the Korachs of Today
This rebellion of Korach the most perilous moment for Israel during its wilderness journey, remembering Korach as the “Torah’s professional troublemaker and the most famous rabble-rousing Jew of all time.”
Pointing to the negative example of Korach as a “peddler of hatred,” the leaders caution that we should not befriend evil people. Indeed, Proverbs 13:20 counsels that “a companion of fools will suffer harm.”