This parashah starts with Korach, a Levite, coming together with Dathan and Abiram (both from the tribe of Reuben) against Moshe and Aaron, especially Moshe. They accuse Moshe of going too far and placing himself above them. Korach has organized another 250 men who stand with him. When Moshe hears this accusation he falls on his face, then he tells them to gather their people the next day at the Tent of Meeting and to bring their censors with incense and fire before the Lord, and that he and Aaron will do so, also. Then God will choose who is holy and can come before Him. Moshe goes on to remind Korach that the Levites were chosen by God to be separated and given special privileges to serve God and the people, but now they aren’t happy with that, so they seek the priesthood, too! He tells them they have gone too far.
The next day they all come to the tent with their censors and incense. When Dathan and Abiram refuse to come, Moshe goes to their tents and Abiram and Dathan rebel against, and insult, Moshe even more, going as far as to blame Moshe for the people not having received the land they were promised. At the Tent of Meeting God speaks to Moshe and says to separate himself from the community as He is going to destroy them, but Moshe asks why should all the people suffer for the sins of a few? He uses the same argument Abraham used when trying to save Sodom, except the other-way around: Abraham asked if a few righteous should be killed for the many sinners, and Moshe is asking why the many righteous (innocent) should be killed for the sins of a few men. Same argument- please don’t kill the “innocent” with the guilty.
This also is a theme that we see develop as time goes by: God is more willing to relent destruction of the children for the sins for the father, and vice-versa.
God says He will only destroy the rebellious ones, and Moshe is told to have everyone in the camp physically separate themselves from the tents of Korach, Dathan and Abiram. As the people draw away, Moshe says that if these men die a normal death than God did not send Moshe, but if the earth were to split open and swallow them all alive into Sheol, then everyone will know that Moshe is God’s chosen representative and that these men have rebelled against God. No sooner does Moshe finish then the ground splits open and swallows Dathan, Abiram, and Korach, as well as their family and possessions.
Then fire comes from heaven and incinerates all of the 250 men. The censors, which are all that is left of the men, at God’s command are beaten into a cover for the altar so everyone will see it and remember. However, the very next day the people accuse Moshe of killing the Lord’s people, and the cloud of the glory of the Lord comes onto the Tent of Meeting. God again warns Moshe to get away from the entire community because He is going to destroy them, but Moshe again intercedes. However, a plague has already broken out from God’s fury, and Moshe tells Aaron to burn incense and make atonement for the people. Aaron runs right into the middle of the plague, standing between the dead and the living, and stops the plague.
God now provides another demonstration of his choice of Aaron through the miracle of making Aaron’s staff grow not just buds, but flowers and ripe almonds, as well. Now the people finally “get it’ and they are frightened of God and the tent of Meeting, crying that they are all dead men because all who come before the tent die.
Oy! How blind can you be? They just don’t see their own sin is causing their destruction.
The last part of this parashah reviews the rights of the priests with regards to what portion of the sacrifices brought before God they are allowed to keep for themselves, and reminds the Levites that they are to keep the common people away from the Tabernacle to protect them, from themselves.
What we see here are two tribes, both of which feel slighted. The Levites (specifically Korach and his followers) aren’t satisfied attending to the tabernacle and carrying the tent; they want to be in charge of the service and attend to God, directly. The Reubenites feel slighted because Reuben was the firstborn, but did not receive the blessings or rights of the firstborn. Of course, maybe they forgot it was because Reuben had disgraced his father, Jacob, by sleeping with one of his father’s concubines. That’s not going to get you any points, believe-you-me!
It seems that they also forgot that the people were the ones who refused to enter the Land, and so it was their fault, not Moshe’s, that they didn’t have their own property, as promised. In fact, it was the people who told Moshe that he should be the only one to talk with God. Go back to Sh’Mot (Exodus) 20:19: the people assign Moshe the position of intercessor and leader. Now they accuse him of putting himself in charge!
When I read this story, it seems to me we are being shown that we should be grateful for anything we receive, and not be jealous of what God has done for others, or think we deserve more than what we have. God knows what we need, and that is all we should ask from Him. This is an attitude of humility and faithful thankfulness, and that is what God asks from us. Just trust in Him and be thankful for whatever we have.
In the 23rd Psalm, David says that the Lord is our shepherd and we shall not want. Maybe “want” doesn’t mean ‘want’ as in a desire for something, but ‘want’ as meaning to have needs, as “the poor want for food.” If we trust God, we will not want, in other words, we won’t be in want. He can, and will, provide for everyone who trusts in Him. Not only did Korach, Dathan, Abiram and the other men not trust in God or have an attitude of humility, but they rebelled against God and accused Moshe of doing exactly what they were doing- placing themselves above others. Moshe was doing as God told him, but the others weren’t- they were doing as they wanted to do. And, since God had told them what their job was already, by wanting something else they sinned, and they suffered for it.
The sad part is that the sin of Korach, Dathan and Abiram caused not just their wives, children and the other 250 men to die, but the plague that came killed another 14,700 people. Three men sinned, and nearly 15,000 died from it.
Sin always has consequences, and more often than we realize, it is the innocent who suffer for the sins of the guilty. This is why it is so important to avoid sin, avoid people that sin, and be trusting and thankful to God. It’s not that hard to do. Don’t be covetous: it’s OK to have ambition to be better, to want to provide more for your family, but not to the point where you accuse others because they have more and want what others have just to have it.
I have driven by many beautiful homes and thought, “What a nice place to live.” Then I remind myself of what it says in Proverbs 15:17 (Better a small serving of vegetables with love than a fattened calf with hatred) and also Proverbs 17:1 (Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife.) Not that everyone in a beautiful house is living in a loveless family, but just because something looks great to have doesn’t mean it is great to have. We must be happy with what God has provided and not concern ourselves with how much happier we would be with more of what someone else has.
That’s the problem with wanting more: there is always more to want. Always wanting more is a self-defeating proposition and you will never be satisfied. On the other hand, people who appreciate what they have are happy and satisfied.
This doesn’t mean that just going through life accepting whatever happens is right. There are things we can’t change, things we can, and we need to ask God to show us to know which is which, and to strengthen us to do what we need to.
It is all about God and all for God: if doing more can glorify His name, do more. If being content can glorify His name, then be content.
It isn’t easy to know the difference, is it? I depend on the Ruach haKodesh to show me what is growth in the Lord and what is selfish ambition.
I don’t always get it right.