Parshat Korach: The rebellion

The rebellion by Korach and his followers against Moshe and Aaron is disturbing and perplexing.

Dr. Joseph Frager,

DR . Joseph Frager,
DR . Joseph Frager,
Courtesy of Dr. Frager

The Rebellion by Korach and his followers against Moshe and Aaron is disturbing and perplexing. It is disturbing because it happened at all and it is perplexing because Korach who Rashi calls a wise man (Pikeach) took on Moshe who split the sea and took the Jews out of Egypt.

Of course the Torah records events to teach Lessons. It is also easy playing Monday morning quarterback and look through the retrospectroscope. We are asked to do so in any case and derive Musar and Guidance from our endeavor. The Parsha opens dramatically, "Korach son of Yitzhar, son of Kehat, son of Levi separated himself, with Dotan and Aviram sons of Eliav, and On son of Pelet the offspring of Reuven."

Rashi goes to great lengths to try to understand the backround of the Rebellion. He blames Korach's anger over the appointment of Elizaphan the son of Uzziel Prince over the children of Kehat. Rashi also blames the Rebellion on the fact that, "His eye deceived him". Korach saw his descendant Samuel who is often compared to Moshe and Aaron in stature.

One might think that after the incident with the Meraglim (Spies)(Going according to the Ramban that events in the Torah usually follow chronological order) Korach would have thought twice before taking on Moshe. Except for Caleb and Yehoshua all the spies died for their sin.

A wise man might have learned his lesson. Just the opposite occurred. According to the Ramban Korach was a Populist and thought this was precisely the perfect opportunity to cause a Populist Uprising (for some reason Bernie Sanders comes to mind). After all the Jews were not too happy at this moment.They were down and out after having been told they would wander and die in the Desert over the next 40 years. The Ramban says, "and it was decreed upon all the rest of the people that they gradually perish in the Wilderness and there shall they die- at that point the mood of the entire nation became bitter and they said in their hearts that the words of Moshe would bring them more mishaps."

It was then that Korach found the opportunity to contest Moshe's actions (over the appointment of Elizaphan, the appointment of Aaron as the Kohen Gadol, and the elevation of the Levites over the firstborn)- and he believed that the people would now listen to him. The Ramban makes it clear that Korach had been plotting his Rebellion and seized what he thought was an opportunity to cause a Populist Uprising.

He could not have been more wrong. Korach was no slouch. He was a Judge. He was given the great honor of carrying the "Ark of the Covenant". He clearly had the spark of Greatness in him that led to the birth of Samuel. He was the third Great-grandson of Levi after Aaron and Moshe. He thought of himself next in line because of this pedigree. He also considered himself on par with Moshe and Aaron because of his familial closeness. This got him into trouble. One might call it sibling rivalry. But there is more to the story.

It gets even more complex. Although Datan and Aviram are considered lesser players in this uprising, I believe they play a much larger role overall. Rashi comments "Woe to the wicked, woe to his neighbor". For the tribe of Reuven which had its own grievance against Moshe (for taking away their firstborn status and giving it to Yosef) encamped in the south in the neighborhood of Kehat. Datan and Aviram had been agitators and agents provocateur against Moshe from the get go. Datan who owed his life to Moshe (Datan was about to be killed by the Egyptian that Moshe killed) should have been makir tov to Moshe.

Instead he was always critical and jumped on the Korach Bandwagon. Datan and Aviram were bitter people.Their lives had been turned upside down in Egypt. Just as many who survived the Holocaust were bitter and resentful, the survivors of the Bondage in Egypt Datan and Aviram were as well. Just as we cannot judge anyone who survived the Holocaust we cannot judge Datan and Aviram and Korach. It is brought down in Sefer Derech Sichah that Datan and Aviram were among the Jewish officials who allowed themselves to be whipped rather than whip Jews under their charge.

Having said that, when "Moshe sent forth to summon Datan and Aviram, the sons of Eliav, they said, We will not go up!"(16:12) They further said, "Is it not enough that you have brought us to die in the Wilderness, yet you seek to dominate us, even to dominate further?" (16:13) Their bitterness had gotten the better of them and this was the final straw.

Datan and Aviram had a track record of stirring trouble. Nothing happens in a vacuum. They had followers. They might very well have had their own Political Party. Although we only know of Korach teaming up with Datan and Aviram in Parshat Korach it is not inconceivable that Korach was behind some of their earlier exploits.

Korach was the wealthiest Jew in Egypt( he might well have been the wealthiest single person in Egypt) and certainly in the Desert. The Gemara in Pesachim 119a talks about Korach's wealth. "R' Chama bar Chanina said Joseph concealed three treasures in Egypt. One treasure was revealed to Korach, one was revealed to Antoninus son of Severus, and one is hidden away for the Righteous to be claimed in the future." In Kohelet 5:12 King Solomon refers to Korach's wealth (according to R' Shimon be Lakish), "There is a sickening evil that I have seen under the sun: riches hoarded by their owner to his misfortune. R' Levi said:"The keys to Korach's treasure houses were the equivalent to the load of 300 white mules and all of those keys and locks were made of leather." Korach's wealth fueled his rebellion. It certainly blinded him. He offered Datan and Aviram a platform plus financing.

Today we see how the wealthy do the same.

George Soros is one example. Unfortunately, there are many. Korach also offered Datan and Aviram the ticket to respectability. In the end, "The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households , and all the people who were with Korach and the entire wealth."(16:32) According to the Targum Yonatan on the Posuk (16:34) they screamed from the deep "G-d is righteous, His verdict is true, and the words of his servant Moshe are true. We are evil because we rebelled against him." After this episode Nation building could begin in earnest under the tutelage and guidance of Moshe and Aaron. There are many valuable lessons to be learned from the story of Korach. The Jewish People do well with the right leader. Unfortunately, there are many Korach's out there ready to grab power.

It is up to each and everyone of us to make sure that does not happen. Shabbat Shalom