The Israelites are in the desert, and three men, Abiram, Dathan (both from the tribe of Rueben) and their leader, the Levite Korach, rebel against Moses. They have also collected 250 leading men from the 12 tribes to join them in demanding that Moses and Aaron allow other men to act as Cohen to Adonai. They accuse Moses and Aaron of appointing themselves the leaders.
If you prefer to watch a video, click on this link: Watch the video.
Moses and Aaron, by instruction from God, tell the 250 men, as well as their leaders, to take their incense pans, fill them with fire and incense and bring them before the Tent of Meeting the next morning.
Note: the offering of incense was only to be performed by the Cohen. By having the 250 rebels do this, Moses had them take the place of the Cohen. Since God told Moses to do this, we see later that the result was their death, just as God destroyed Nadab and Abihu, to prove that God did not accept their offering because they weren’t the ones he wanted in charge.
Today, they would have received a nice letter saying that the position they applied for has been filled.
Dathan and Abiram refuse to attend this gathering, so Moses goes to their tents, warning everyone around them to leave that area or be caught up in what was to happen.
And what happened was that Moses said if he was not placed in charge by God, then these men would live a full life; but, if it is God who placed Moses in charge, then the earth will open up and swallow these men, their family, and all they have down to Sheol, alive.
And that is exactly what happened.
At the same time, fire comes forth from God and incinerates all 250 men.
Moses instructs the sons of Aaron and their cousins to take the fire pans and beat them into a covering for the altar, since they are now holy items, and to carry the carcasses out of the camp.
After seeing this, the people (still not getting the idea) accuse Moses and Aaron of killing these men. God becomes so angry with the people he tells Moses he will destroy them and sends a plague, which Aaron stops by taking incense into the middle of the dying people and thereby stopping the plague.
But not until after some 14,700 people died.
God tells Moses to have each tribal leader write his name on his staff, as well as Aaron, and place them in the Tent of Meeting. God will then show everyone his choice of Cohen by making that person’s staff grow buds. Aaron’s staff shows not just buds, but flowers and ripe almonds, as well.
The people are now afraid to even come close to the Tent of Meeting, as they believe anyone coming before the tent will result in their death.
The parashah ends with God reiterating the duties of and payments to the Levites, and how it is their responsibility to guard the Sanctuary by surrounding it to make sure none of the people get too close, which would incur God’s wrath and punishment.
We don’t know when this rebellion took place. I looked at a number of different websites, and they all talked about the rebellion, but none seemed to know when it took place during the trip from Egypt to the final entry into the land of Canaan.
The events in the Torah are not in strict chronological order, and I see two references in this parashah which could indicate the rebellion happened either on the way to Canaan, or just after the doomed attack on Canaan (Numbers 14:39-45).
One indication that this was before the Canaan attack is that one of the accusations made against Moses is that he failed to bring them into the promised land, leading them from the land of milk and honey” to die in the desert (Numbers 16:13-14). Even though the reference to the land of milk and honey has mostly referred to Canaan, I believe they might have been talking about Egypt. The reason for that is because up to this time, all the complaints referred to Egypt as a better place, one where they were well fed and happy (how soon they forget, right?).
On the other hand, it could also be right after Adonai told Moses to take the people away from Canaan so that the people who refused to enter would die in the desert (Numbers 14:28-30).
I don’t think it is necessary to know when this event took place, but if I had to guess, I would say it happened after the defeat of the people trying to enter Canaan the first time.
I feel this way because even though Moses told the people about God’s refusal to let them enter the land, they continued to blame Moses. They always blamed Moses for everything they didn’t like, and this time was no different. They just didn’t “get it”: they didn’t recognize that God was running the show and not Moses. Despite the many miraculous events God performed, they still thought Moses was doing it.
Another reason I think this happened just after the failed attempt to enter Canaan is that even though we know events in this book aren’t always in chronological order, the remaining chapters are about the death of Miriam, Aaron, and Moses, with some events happening just before they enter the land of Canaan.
One lesson we can glean from this story is to know when it is right to question authority. I have heard that Korach, Dathan and Abiram got together because they had similar objectives: Korach wanted to be in a position of authority, and the Reubenites wanted to be reestablished as leaders, since Reuben was the first born (but he lost that honor because he slept with his father’s concubine).
They could easily have planned this out as they travelled together since their positions in the order of march had them next to each other.
So when should we question those in authority over us, and how should we approach them? In this case, an open rebellion didn’t work out well, mainly because they had plenty of opportunity to see that God was unquestionably working through Moses.
I would have questioned the right of the 250 men to be in leadership because they so easily fell under the influence of Korach.
I suppose this is a really tough question, and depends on many factors: who first placed the people in leadership, are the leaders doing things against the people or just not explained to the people, and who would be available to replace the leadership?
The most important thing, I think, is what procedures are established for this type of problem? Impeachment? Recall? Vote of Confidence? Coup d’état?
I guess I’ll end today’s message, and answer my question with this: maybe the most important thing for us to learn is that when we are in a position of leadership, we need to be able to ensure that what we do is right with God, because if we have to deal with a Korach, it would be best to have God on our side.
Thank you for being here and please share these messages with everyone you know to help this ministry grow. Subscribe to my website, YouTube channel, buy my books, and join my Facebook group called “Just God’s Word” (please read and agree to the rules).
And remember: I always welcome your comments.
That’s it for this week, so l’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!