Numbers in [square brackets] are the mitzva-count of the Sefer HaChinuch.
KOHEN – First Aliya – 13 p’sukim (16:1-13)
“And Korach took”.
Commentators suggest different meanings for this phrase:
Korach took the Reuvenites with him in his rebellion against Moshe;
Korach “took with words” (i.e. persuaded) others to join his rebellion.
Korach “took apart” – split people between himself and Moshe.
Korach is identified as the son of Yitzhar, grandson of K’hat, great grandson of Levi. It is quite unusual to identify biblical personalities as such. Rashi points out that the lineage mentioned in the pasuk stops before reaching Yaakov Avinu who foresaw Korach’s wickedness and pleaded with G-d not to be included in the Torah’s account of Korach’s deeds. On the other hand, it reached back to Levi because Korach’s being from Levi was the major factor involved in the whole episode.
Korach, Datan & Aviram and ON b. Pelet (who backed out in time) challenge Moshe’s authority. Korach enlists 250 men to publicize his/their “cause”.[SDT] Korach was a first cousin of Moshe and Aharon. He felt slighted by the fact that both top positions – the leadership and Kohen Gadol-ship – went to two of his uncle Amram’s sons and the leadership of the K’hat family went to another cousin, the son of Korach’s father’s younger brother – Elitzafan b. Uziel. Korach found sympathy for his cause within the tribe of Reuven because Reuven himself was passed over for the leadership (which went to Yehuda), the birthright (Yosef received the double portion of the firstborn in the form of the tribes of Ephraim and Menashe) and the Kehuna/Leviya.
Moshe proposes a test – both Aharon and Korach’s people will offer incense before G-d and G-d will indicate whom He chooses. Moshe tries to talk Korach out of his fight by telling him that being a Levi is special – why seek more? Moshe then calls for Datan & Aviram (from here we learn that the court sends a deputy – a shoteir – to bring in an accused party); they arrogantly refuse Moshe’s summons.[SDT] Sources tell us that Korach taunted Moshe Rabeinu with two mocking questions – A talit made completely of T’cheilet, does it require Tzitzit (with the T’cheilet strand)? A house filled with Torah scrolls, does it require a mezuza? Both questions pointed to the same complaint: A Nation of holy people, people who heard G-d’s Voice at Sinai, do they require holy leaders? The basis of suggesting the talit question is the juxtaposition of the Korach episode to the portion of Tzitzit at the end of last week’s sedra. The Kli Yakar suggests that the mezuza question is alluded to by the description of Datan & Aviram arrogantly standing at the doorway of their tent and mocking G-d’s commandments and Moshe’s leadership.
LEVI – Second Aliya – 6 p’sukim (16:14-19)
Datan & Aviram, two people with a long record of evil behavior, compounded their wickedness with the unpardonable affront to the Land of Israel by referring to Egypt as “the land flowing with milk and honey” that Moshe took us out of, to “kill us in the wilderness”.
Moshe angrily asks G-d not to accept the incense offerings of Korach’s group. Moshe then reiterates the challenge to Korach. Korach gathers the People to witness the “showdown”; the 250 people and Aharon will each have the special vessel onto which they will place a glowing coal, onto which they will put the incense and they will all be standing at the entrance to the Ohel Mo’ed. G-d’s “glory” was revealed to the People.
SDT: The Gemara tells us that when Korach challenged Moshe’s authority, it was the Sun and the Moon that appeared before G-d and said: If you side with the son of Amram (i.e. Moshe), then we will continue to shine; if not, we stop shining. What is the significance of this statement from the Gemara? One commentator points out that the Sun and the Moon were originally of equal greatness, and the Moon was diminished because “two kings cannot rule with one crown”. This was exactly one of the problems with Korach’s arguments, so the Sun and Moon were particularly appropriate participants in this issue. Notice that not only must the sun acknowledge the situation, but so must the moon. Korach’s downfall was his lack of acceptance of a moon-like role.
SHLISHI – Third Aliya – 24 p’sukim (16:20-17:8)
G-d tells Moshe and Aharon to separate themselves from the rest of the People so that He will destroy them. Moshe – even while being upset in the extreme with the challenge to his own integrity – pleads on behalf of the People before G-d, asking Him not to punish the multitude because of the sins of an individual. Moshe warns the People to separate themselves (physically and psychologically) from Korach and his followers lest they be included in the punishment to come. Moshe declares that all will know that G-d has sent him to do all that he does. If these wicked people shall die in a similar manner to others, then G-d has not sent Moshe. But if G-d will “supply” a new creation and the earth will open its mouth and swallow Korach and company and all that belongs to them, then all will know that these people have truly rebelled against G-d. As Moshe finished these words, the earth beneath them split, opened and swallowed all with Korach. (Implication from the p’sukim is that the People did not actually die but left this world in this unusual and miraculous manner.)[SDT] Korach and Co. were punished “measure-for-measure”. They sinned with their mouths, by making outlandish claims and speaking falsely against Moshe. The Mouth of the Earth which swallow them was their appropriate punishment.
The People shouted in panic when they witnessed what was happening. A Divine fire consumed the 250 incense offerers. G-d tells Moshe to tell Elazar b. Aharon to collect the fire-pans and scatter the burning coals. The copper from the pans was to be used to plate the Altar as a reminder that a non-Kohen must not attempt to usurp the Kohen’s authority.
The next day the People, fearing retribution, complained against Moshe for killing (part of) G-d’s Nation. G-d’s Cloud descended upon the Ohel Mo’ed and Moshe and Aharon went there for instructions.[SDT] The earth not only swallowed Korach’s gang, but their possessions as well. The message, says IMREI SHEFER, is that one’s wealth often causes a person to be arrogant. This, in turn, leads sometimes to challenging authority. The people’s possessions were not innocent bystanders, so to speak, to Korach’s rebellion.
Note that in Korach’s rebellion we see not only two punishments, but two very different kinds of punishments, which, in turn, reflect on the type of sin. Datan and Aviram and their ilk were plunged down into the bowels of the Earth. But the 250 K’toret-offerers, they were honorable people. They were godly. The Torah testifies to that when we are first introduced to them. They honestly believed that they were making proper offerings to G-d. Otherwise, they would not have risked their lives. They must have been surprised to have failed! Their sin was reaching TOO high towards the Divine. And their punishment was to be struck down by Divine fire (as had been Nadav and Avihu).
Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Poupko has a very interesting theory that explains Korach’s rebellion. It does not apply to Datan and Aviram and their kind – they would challenge G-d and Moshe for any or no reason. But Korach (perhaps) and the 250 prominent individuals who joined him, they might have been thinking the following:
Moshe was chosen by G-d to lead the people. True. And he will always be on a higher level than the rest of us. We, not G-d, elevated Moshe even higher. We decided that we did not want to hear the “Voice of G-d” anymore and we requested that Moshe tell us what G-d wants of us, and we will comply. G-d spoke to all of Israel. That was the plan. And that put all of Israel on the level of prophecy. With Moshe as the chief prophet. We forfeited our direct communication with G-d, and we made Moshe the ONLY prophet. (Let’s not complicate the issue with the 70 elders who shared of Moshe’s prophecy, like a candle that lights others.)
The Gemara says that the “deal” that the People of Israel made at Sinai concerning not having direct communication from G-d, was an irrevocable, forever deal. Korach wanted to change his mind. Perhaps he was no longer confident that Moshe could actually bring the People into Eretz Yisra’el, after the whole Meraglim fiasco. The merit of this theory is that it balances the motivations of Korach’s gang. Datan and Aviram were BAD. The K’toret bringers were not necessarily so. Probably not.
R’VI’I – Fourth Aliya – 7 p’sukim (17:9-15)
Once again G-d “suggests” that He destroy the People. This time Moshe does not plead with G-d on their behalf but immediately instructs Aharon to burn incense on coals from the Altar and that he should pass among the People to stop the plague that had already begun. This quick action stopped the plague which had already claimed 14,700 lives, not counting those who perished in the Korach incident.
Sometimes, in times of trouble, Moshe prays to G-d extensively. His prayer after the Sin of the Golden Calf is an example of long prayer. We can even say that it was a prayer that lasted 40 days. When Miriam was stricken with Tzora’at, Moshe uttered to short 5-word (11 letter) prayer for her wellbeing – KEIL NA R’FA NA LAH. And at this point in Korach, Moshe senses that prayer will not work – swift action is called for.
The Torah speaks of the 10 times we “tried G-d’s patience” in the Midbar. This is one of the items we are supposed to always remember. Pirkei Avot (5th perek) mentions this among its series of tens. Let’s take a look at three of the times – the Sin of the Golden Calf, the Sin of the Spies, and Korach’s rebellion.
CHEIT HA’EIGEL resulted in the deaths of the actual perpetrators (3000 men), but the rest of the People were basically forgiven after Moshe’s pleading. The spies themselves were killed, the adult male population was banned from entry into Eretz Yisrael, and were to die out in the course of the 40 years of wandering. It might not sound like it, but the people were basically forgiven for this too (but with harsher punishment).
In contrast, the 250 incense offerers were consumed by fire, Korach, Datan and Aviram and their people, households, and possessions were swallowed up by the Earth, and for complaining in the aftermath of the Korach rebellion, a plague erupted and claimed 14,700 lives “on the spot”. The plague was “contained” by Moshe’s swift actions. A heavy price was paid for the Korach fiasco.
Combining different ideas in the commentaries, we can suggest the following: The Sin of the Golden Calf represents sins against G-d. He can be, and often is, most forgiving for that kind of sin. The sin of the spies was an affront to Eretz Yisrael. This, so to speak, G-d considered a graver sin, and was less forgiving. Korach’s rebellion was directed against Moshe. It was a BEIN ADAM L’CHAVEIRO issue. These are the kinds of sins that G-d is least willing to forgive.
The same observation has been made in comparing the Flood, which came as a result of a breakdown in society, with the Tower of Babel, where people united to rebel against G-d. The punishment was much less severe in that case.
CHAMISHI – Fifth Aliya – 9 p’sukim (17:16-24)
G-d tells Moshe to speak to the People and take a staff from each of the tribal leaders, the staff to be inscribed with the leader’s name. The name of Aharon was to be inscribed on the staff representing the tribe of Levi. The staffs were to be placed in the Ohel Mo’ed. The person whom G-d shall choose, his staff shall blossom; this manifestation of G-d’s choice shall hopefully put an end to the complaints and confusion of the People. The People did as instructed and the staffs were placed in the “Tent of Testimony” overnight. On the following day Aharon’s staff had blossomed. Moshe showed the staffs to the People and each tribe took its staff back.
G’MATRIYA from L’Ora shel Torah by R. Yaakov Auerbach z”l
Here is a numeric confirmation of the role of the kohanim as representatives of all of Israel. Shmot 28:1 – Bring close to you Aharon your brother and his sons with him from among the People of Israel, to serve Me. The g’matriya of that pasuk is 3166. So is the total of the g’matriyas of of the names of the 12 sons of Yaakov – Reuven, Shimon, Levi, Yehuda, Yissachar, Zevulun, Dan, Naftali, Gad…
SHISHI – Sixth Aliya – 24 p’sukim (17:25-18:20)
G-d tells Moshe to return Aharon’s staff to the Mishkan as a reminder to the People not to rebel or complain. Moshe does as instructed. The People express their feelings of despondency and fear of Divine punishment for their various lapses. G-d reiterates that the Kohanim and Leviyim hold special positions and have the responsibility to avoid risking their lives by overstepping their bounds.
Leviyim are required to guard the Mikdash . (Honor guard)[In fact, there were 24 watchposts, 21 of which were manned by Leviyim; three were within the Temple and were manned by Kohanim.]
Kohanim and Leviyim are forbidden to perform each others sacred tasks . A non-Kohen/Levi may not work in the Temple . It is forbidden to disregard the obligations of the Temple honor-guard .
The Torah next lists several gifts that are given to the Kohen – the meat of certain korbanot, t’ruma, bikurim, consecrated objects, the firstborn of kosher farm animals and the redemption/exchange for a firstborn donkey. Firstborn humans are to be redeemed for 5 silver shekels .
Firstborn cow/goat/sheep may not be redeemed , but must be brought as a korban within a year (if unfit for the Altar, the b’chor is the possession of the kohen without restrictions). All gifts of the kehuna (24 in number) are for Aharon and his descendants in perpetuity. However, the Kohen does not receive a portion of land in Israel. (This is the basis of the complex intertwined relationship between kohen and non-kohen.)
Note that there are more mitzvot mentioned here than are numbered among the 613. The ones not numbered are counted elsewhere in the Torah, and are referred to here in the context of that which is due the kohen in exchange for his service and life-role.
Speaking of firstborns…
Three kinds of firstborns. Human firstborns MUST be redeemed. Even though the text of Pidyon HaBen calls for the kohen to ask the father of the baby which he prefers, his son or the 5 silver coins, the father may not opt for the money.
The firstborn of a donkey SHOULD be redeemed, but there is a fallback mitzva, frowned upon but nonetheless on the books and available.
The firstborn of a kosher domesticated farm animal (cow, goat, sheep) MAY NOT be redeemed.
No other firstborns have sanctity and mitzvot associated with them. Not horse or camel, not deer and antelope, not cat or dog or bird, etc. In other words, we do not generalize these mitzvot by saying that the Torah was just using an example.
SH’VI’I – Seventh Aliya – 12 p’sukim (18:21-32)
The Levi is to receive tithe (1/10 of the produce) from all Israelites. (The 10% is to be taken AFTER the T’ruma was taken off for the Kohen, which is about 2%.) This is his due in exchange for this work in the Mikdash.
Leviyim also do not receive land; their role is that of a spiritual functionary. They receive Ma’aser in lieu of a portion of land. (They also had 48 cities designated by the Tribes, for them to live in.) The service of the Leviyim in the Mikdash constitutes a positive mitzva . So too it is a mitzva to give Ma’aser Rishon to a Levi . In turn, the Levi is commanded to give a l/10 of his tenth to a kohen . This is known as t’rumat ma’aser or ma’aser min hama’aser. This mitzva is performed in a technical way nowadays in Eretz Yisrael to permit the balance of the produce to us.
Last 3 p’sukim are reread for Maftir.
Aharon’s rod gave forth SH’KEIDIM, almonds.
300+100+4+10+40=454. Chashmona’im = 8+300+40+6+50+1+10+40=455. They came forth from Aharon. (Baal HaTurim doesn’t mind ±1)
Haftara – 24 p’sukim – Shmuel Alef 11:14-12:22
Towards the end of Shmuel HaNavi’s “career”, he renews the kingship of Shaul HaMelech, but he reminds the people that it is a bad idea to have a king. He also recounts some of the backsliding and punishments of the people from the time of Moshe (this is a major connection to the sedra), and challenges the people to impugn his behavior over the years.This too has a parallel to Moshe’s being upset that the people would rebel against him after all he did for them. Striking among the common points between sedra and Haftara is the invoking of a miracle to “back up” his credentials. The unexpected violent storm, then, parallels in a way, the flowering stick.