Weekly Torah Portion

June 24, 2017 – 30 Sivan 5777
Parashat Korach: Shabbat Rosh Chodesh

Torah (Numbers 16:1-18:32): Etz Hayim p. 860-875
Maftir (Numbers 28:9-15): Etz Hayim p. 930-931
Haftarah (Isaiah 66:1-24, 23): Etz Hayim p. 1219-1223

The Torah’s prototypical dissenter, Korach, supported by Dathan and Aviram, and leading a force of 250 men, incites a rebellion against Moses, assailing his claim to unique leadership. A dismayed Moses challenges his detractors to a cultic confrontation. Both the impudent rebels and Aaron are to bring offerings of incense on fire pans; Moses explains that “the man whom the Lord chooses, he shall be the holy one.” After Korach gathers the community to witness the decisive event, a frustrated God threatens to destroy the entire nation. Moses intervenes, praying: “God, Source of the breath of all flesh, when one man sins, will You be wrathful with the whole community?” God relents, ordering Moses to instruct the Israelites to distance themselves from Korach’s band. In accordance with Moses’ explicit warning, the earth opens up and swallows Korach, his ringleaders, and their households; fire consumes the rebels offering the incense, and the horrified and panicked community of Israel flees in fear.

Eleazar collects the fire pans that the rebels had used – unauthorized but now deemed sacred – to be used to cover the altar, as a reminder of the terrible consequences of this – or similar – uprisings. Despite the vindication of Moses and the dire fate of his detractors, the Israelite community begins to “murmur,” to complain against Moses and Aaron. This ill-advised sedition is met with further divine wrath: 14,700 Israelites perish in a punitive plague, which is curtailed by Aaron’s expiatory intercession.

Further divine proof is offered to substantiate the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Twelve staffs are provided, each inscribed with the name of a tribal chieftain; one staff is inscribed with Aaron’s name. Aaron’s staff miraculously sprouts, and it is placed beside the Ark as a reminder to other would-be rebels.

Following a fearful lament by the Israelites about the lethal power of God’s sanctuary, the Levites and priests are charged specifically with all that pertains to the sacred precincts and with the responsibility of keeping unauthorized parties from compromising its sanctity. The sacerdotal mission of the tribe of Levi is met with a number of perquisites: sacrificial emoluments – “the best of the new oil, wine, and grain, the choice parts that Israelites present to the Lord” – as well as tithes, are assigned to the priests and the Levites.