Korach and his followers challenge Moses’ and Aharon’s leadership, and are swallowed by the earth and consumed by fire. A rebellion breaks out among the people, resulting in a plague which kills 14,700 people. A test reconfirms Aharon’s appointment as High Priest. The duties of the Priests and Levites, and their share in the produce, are described.
Chaim Weiner received his smicha (ordination) from the Schechter Institute of Judaic Studies in Jerusalem. He was National Director of the Masorti youth group NOAM in Israel for 3 years, before taking up the pulpit at the Edgware Masorti Synagogue in London. Following a two-year fellowship at the prestigious Mandel School for Educational leadership in Jerusalem, he returned to London and followed Dr. Louis Jacobs as the Rabbi of the New London Synagogue. Since 2005 he has served as the Av Beth Din of the European Masorti Beth Din. He is also Regional Director of the Masorti Movement in Europe.
"Now Korach, son of Izhar son of Kohath son of Levi, took himself, along with Dathan and Abiram sons of Eliab, and On, son of Peleth -- descendants of Reuben -- to rise up against Moses ..."
The reading this week tells the story of the great rebellion against the leadership of Moses that took place during the sojourn of the Children of Israel in the desert. Moses was the greatest leader of all time, a humble man, a prophet of God, extremely wise and had led his people out of Egypt. How could so many people be against him?
The Midrash looks at each of the participants in the rebellion, and finds that each was driven by a different motivation.
We will start with Korach himself. Korach was Moses' uncle. He was also of the tribe of Levi which had gained tremendous influence is the new order that Moses was establishing. It is not the weak who rebel. It is the powerful who are overlooked. Jealousy is a powerful motivation for dissent.
It is harder to understand the motivations of Dathan and Abiram. They were princes of the Tribe of Reuben. Some point to the fact that Reuben was the first born who had been passed over when the power was transferred to the tribe of Levi. But Reuben had lost his position of favour many generations earlier, in favour of Joseph! Therefore, the Midrash finds a different explanation. In the order of the camp, the tribe of Reuben was encamped next to Kehat - i.e. next to the family of Korach. From here the Midrash teaches - 'Woe to the wicked; woe to his neighbour.'
Stranger still is the role of On, the son of Pelet. He appears at the beginning of the rebellion, but there is no further reference to him. The Midrash tells us that although he agreed to participate in the rebellion, he withdrew at a later date. 'Rab said: On, the son of Peleth, was saved by his wife.' The Midrash tells how On came home from the pub one night and told his wife that he had joined up with others to lead a rebellion against Moses. On's wife, who knew exactly what kind of person he was, turned to him and said - 'What difference does it make to you? Whether the Moses remains master or Korach becomes master, you are still but a disciple.' On's wife promptly got him drunk, and he missed the rebellion the next day because he overslept!
Jealously, bad influences, mindless following of the crowd. Sound familiar? They had the potential of bringing down a leader as great as Moses! Leaders today face many of the same challenges. I imagine that many would like to have the ability to have the earth open up and swallow up their opponents. We are right to have high expectations of our leadership. Perhaps, given the difficulties they face, we should also show more understanding.
Another Voice - David Century
At the start of the sedra we are told that Dathan and Aviram joined in the rebellion with Korach. Dathan and Aviram were wealthy leaders in Egypt. When they were summoned by Moses, they refused to come, and complained that Moses had "not brought them to a land of milk and honey, or given them an inheritance of fields and vineyards". They were consumed in the subsequent earthquake.
However, which of us can honestly say that we would not have been tempted to act like these two rebels? They had lost the wealth that they had, and were wandering through the desert for years on the promise that one day they or their children, would be brought to a place where they would have even more. How much patience would we each be able to exercise before we started complaining about the lack of reward? Or, particularly in the world of today when we demand instant satisfaction, would we act like the impatient children of Israel who, even after the dramatic deaths of Dathan and Aviram, continued to demonstrate to Moses?