REBELLION – “Korach” Numbers 16-18 – by Rabbi Baruch Cohon
Of all the challenges Moses faced through his 40-year leadership on the desert journey to the Promised Land, Korach’s rebellion stands out as a singular and spectacular confrontation. A fellow-Levite, Korach considers himself better qualified than Moses and Aaron to be a religious leader. His father was senior to theirs. And the other rebels coming from the tribe of Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, consider themselves hereditary national leaders. Not to mention that the rebels are among the wealthier ex-slaves.
At a remarkable trial by Divine judgment, Aaron’s offering is accepted and Korach’s is rejected. Not just the offering is rejected, however. The earth breaks apart and down go Korach, his family, his followers and their homes into a Biblical sinkhole.
Certainly a violent verdict on a rebellion conceived in envy and pursued in audacity.
Later generations found this account highly significant. Rabbah bar bar Khana, known as the “Baron Munchausen” of the Talmud, told of an experience in the desert when an Arab guided him to a place where he found a crack in the ground. Bending down to it, he heard the voices of Korach and his followers calling out: “Moses and his Torah are true and we are liars!” Their eternal punishment for their rash action.
Yet, a couple of weeks from now we will read that “the sons of Korach did not die.” Not only did they survive their fathers’ destruction, they had special duties in Solomon’s Temple. As loyal Levites, they sang and composed Psalms, which are credited to them in our daily prayers.
Rebellion did not die with Korach either, that’s definite. But it remained for other misguided Israelites to pick it up. Each generation on its own.
Clearly the necessary element is exactly what Korach missed. Know what you are rebelling against, and why. Sometimes we need to rebel – against greed, injustice, tyranny, corruption – because we have to take action for a better life. Not that we ourselves are better, not that we are so special. Just not to be stepped on. Korach’s sons knew that. Too bad their father didn’t.