Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah #38: Korach (Korah) B’Midbar (Numbers) 16:1-18:32
Haftarah: Sh’mu’el (Samuel) 11:14-12:22
B’rit Chadashah: 2 Timothy 2:8-21
This parashah addresses the nature of rebellion and how outward appearances can be deceiving. The characters in this scenario are Korach and Moshe. This event provides a specific example of a wider array of conflicts we must face on a daily basis; small and great. Korach was no ordinary trouble-maker. His name means “baldness, ice, hail, or frost.” He represents the unkosher nature of the pig. He appeared holy from his outward appearance. He was a Levite, one of the tribe consecrated by G-d for the Temple service. He was a leading member of the Kehatites, the most prestigious of the Levites. But like the pig that has split hooves but does not chew the cud making it unkosher, Korach was unclean/defiled on the inside. He was a coward, and like most cowards, he did not act alone. He went from tent to tent soliciting a support base of 250 men of Israel, also leaders of the community. Korach’s argument with Moshe was a selfish one based in a socialistic government of which he wanted to be the head. Korach is regarded as the epitome of dissent and conflict. There are a couple of additional points to introduce regarding not only Korach, but leaders of communities and how we perceive them. Society always seems to be surprised when a “pillar of the community” or someone in a profession we traditionally believe he or she chose because of an altruistic agenda commits a crime, sometimes horrendous in nature. We cannot fathom how such a conflict in what we believe about a person and his or her actions could exist. But these occurrences should not be a surprise. The shortcoming is in our “faith” in that person. We were brought up to believe that all policemen are policemen because they want to help people; that teachers and health care providers choose that vocation because they want to help people in some way. In general, this is true. However, these people come out of the same society in which we live. There are honest, loving people, people of G-d, and some who are just kind. Then, there are those who choose a profession for other than honorable reasons. This is nothing new, but because of our increased technology and communication, we learn about aberrant behaviors much faster than in the past. We often fail to consider where we are living and the Adversary who is allowed to roam free for a time, devouring who he may (Ephesians 2:2; John 14:30; 1 Peter 5:8). We are living in an evil world and the Satan is alive and well for the time being. Corrupt policemen, clergy, doctors, or anyone else in positions traditionally considered occupied by honest, loving, decent people are subject to the lure of satan and his minions in many forms such as greed, lust, or an insatiable appetite for power and prestige. So it was with Korach.
Korach was perceived as the epitome of a person in the Levitical priesthood. He would have seemed sympathetic to Moshe if we believe the statement he made in Num. 13:3. Note this is usually the case with someone who wants something from us; position, money, or other special treatment. The person or people always try to “soften up” the target individual to make that person believe the “wolf” has an honest agenda. The Talmud proclaims “Anyone who engages in divisiveness transgresses a divine prohibition, as it is written: ‘And he shall not be as Korach and his company.’” We must explore the heart of Korach’s contentions that provide this illustration of disunity, and how it compares to those who would initiate such conflict today.
Moshe had divided the people of Israel into several classes of holiness: “ordinary” Israelites, Levites, Kohanim (priests) and, at the top of the heap was the Kohen Gadol (High Priest). This hierarchy was commanded by G-d, not Moshe. However, we know that sometimes people ignore the message and seek to kill the messenger. In contrast, Judaism teaches the opposite; we must look past the messenger’s appearance and evaluate the message for consistency with G-d’s Torah before we apply it to our lives. This was Yahshua’s message; the One who was not physically attractive in any way (Isaiah 53:2-3). Our parashah discusses this concept.
Korach included Dasan and Aviram in his group of dissenters. Moshe summoned them to appear before him to discuss their complaints but they refused in no uncertain terms. Let’s read what they said in Num. 16: 13-14; “Isn’t it enough that you took us out of a land of milk and honey (Egypt) to cause us to die in the desert? Now, you want to lord over us? You have not brought us to the land of flowing milk and honey (Israel), nor did you give us a field and vineyard! Even if you would threaten to send someone to gouge out our eyes, we will not go up (to you)!”
Not only did these men rebel against Moshe and Aharon as G-d’s chosen leaders, they call Egypt the land flowing with milk and honey and refuse to ascend to Moshe to discuss their complaints. They quickly point the finger at Moshe for the sin of the spies and his ‘failure’ to lead the Jewish people to conquer the land of Israel, not to mention accusing Moshe of ‘lording’ over them for his own honor. It is extremely important for us to examine Moshe’s response for our own learning. Moshe was infuriated (Num.: 16:15). However, Rashi explores this concept to reveal Moshe’s grief at what was happening (Rashi, B’midbar 16:15). How do we reconcile his anger/grief with the statement that he was the most humble of men (Num. 12:3)? We can fast-forward to Yahshua’s reaction to the dishonest trading going on in the Temple. In Matthew 21:12 we read “Yahshua entered the Temple grounds and drove out those who were doing business there, both the merchants and their customers. He upset the desks of the money-changers and knocked over the benches of those who were selling pigeons. He said to them, ‘It has been written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer.’ But you are making it into a den of robbers!” Yet, Isaiah 53 speaks of the Messiah’s (Yahshua’s) humility and servanthood. Thus we learn that humility does not require meekness and passivity when dealing with those confronting and contesting G-d’s Torah. There is a world of difference between those who exercise personal, unbridled rage because a perceived affront to their personal character and defending G-d’s Torah. Our reactions should be grounded in hating the act rather than the person or persons. If we hate the person, our response will be based on personal revenge. If we detest the evil action as did Moshe and Yahshua in the examples, we will react with a strong desire to root out and address the evil behavior. There may be no physical difference between these two approaches from the outward action. In both cases, great battles will be required to fight evil that will at times require war and killing. But the differentiation of intent when confronting evil is significant. True believers feel pain and become distressed as we attempt to correct attempts by those who attack Torah through the innumerable venues of sinful behaviors. But we must not allow our personal anger to permeate our judgment in our reaction. To react based on a personal agenda will never result in glorifying G-d; our sole purpose for living. There are 54 verses in the Bible that attest to this truth. This is a great subject for a scriptural scavenger hunt!
Accordingly, Moshe’s feelings are not personal against Korach and his followers. Moshe is distressed, saddened, and depressed that these people have so quickly dismissed G-d’s hierarchal structure for the people and decided they have a better way. Socialism without G-d at the head of the train can never work. We are witnesses to this truth today as we see our nation becoming more and more socialist at the hands of elected officials. Moshe’s approach was also based on the experience of Nadav and Avihu. Recall they died the moment they brought fire pans with a foreign fire to Adonai against His protocol for worshipping Him. This test would be an effective way to see if G-d approved of Korach’s argument (Num. 17:17). Adonai immediately intervened with further direction to Moshe and Aharon. I submit to you that His actions may have been different or non-existent had Moshe not reacted in the way he did. Note that Moshe even gave Korach and the others overnight to consider what they were doing (Num. 16:16). His reaction was not of the ‘knee-jerk’ type we often exercise when we are confronted or offended. G-d commands Moshe to separate himself and Aharon from the rebellious assembly. Yet even so, Moshe interceded on behalf of the community of Israel asking G-d if He is going to punish the entire assembly for the sin of one ( Num. 16:22). This action illustrates how deeply ingrained Moshe’s love and concern for the people was as their shepherd. Moshe takes an additional step to demonstrate to the community that G-d is the One who will deal with Korach and his followers. We must understand that there had never been an earthquake causing the ground to open before this event. This was something new Moshe spoke of as a possible action. Not only does the ground open up and swallow Korach, his followers, and their possessions, but a fire (judgment) came out from Adonai and destroyed those 250 who brought incense to the Tent of Meeting. G-d does not tolerate foreign fire! Here is an illustration of a man in one of the highest positions falling to depths lower than those previously experienced by eh people. We can transpose this to hasatan (satan), his previous status, and his ultimate destiny.
Even so, the above events were not enough to correct the stiff-necked attitudes of the people. Even the brass covering designed by Eliazar for the altar to remind the people against bringing foreign fire was of no help. The very next day the whole community complained against Moshe and Aharon blaming them for Korach’s demise. Now G-d was really angry and He planned to destroy them all at once. Who could blame Moshe if he had said “Go ahead G-d, I am tired of dealing with their rebelliousness and complaints against me and Aharon!” Yet, as a devoted servant of Adonai, Moshe sent Aharon to make atonement for them. Aharon ran to the middle of the assembly with his fire pan, even though G-d already exacted a plague that was killing the people. Aharon added the incense and made atonement for the people, standing between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped. Let us examine this event in the context of our Cohen HaGadol, Yahshua. He descended from heaven, became human, interceded between the dead and the living (those who choose to be reconciled to G-d) and the mandatory death indictment for original sin (plague) stopped.
G-d knew the inner dissention and envy among with people were still present, even after the earthquake, and the plague. This time He interceded for Moshe and Aharon without their asking. G-d was going to put an end to the argument about who should be in charge, but in a way we might not expect, or in which mercenaries and radical zealots would not approve. Similar to the events by which Elijah discovered the still small voice of G-d, as Adonai God chose to work through buds, flowers even ripened almonds! Aharon’s staff was the one that budded with a complete life-cycle of an almond tree, demonstrating the power of G-d to transcend time and other laws of nature. The staff was to remain in view lest the people forget G-d’s choice as their cohen gadol, and no other.
Haftarah: 1 Samuel 11:14-22:22
The prophet Samuel, who was a descendant of Korach, gathers the Jews to attend the installation of Saul as king of Israel. During the address to the people Samuel shouts “Here I am; bear witness against me before G-d and before His anointed; whose ox I did not take, or whose ass did I take, or whom did I rob; or whom did I oppress, or from whose hand did I take a bribe…” This is compared to Moshe’s statement in the parashah “I have not taken a donkey from a single one of them, and I have not harmed a single one of them” (Num. 16:15.
The nation gathers at Gilgal for a second coronation of King Saul- the first one having lacked a convincing census. They offer sacrifices and rejoice. Samuel then asks the people to testify that he never committed crimes against the people, and they confirm his statement. He tells the people how G-d saved and lead them every step of their journey and chastises them for wanting a tangible king over G-d as their sovereign Ruler. He assures them that even though this is not a wise choice, G-d will be with them IF they follow His commands, statutes, and laws. However, he also reminds them of what will happen to them if they choose to go their own way. We are seeing the fruits of this bad choice today; settling for less than the best King they could ever hope to have as their leader (YHVH/Yahshua). As a confirmation to the people that Samuel is not speaking in his own authority, he asks G-d to send a thunderstorm although it is not the season for storms. G-d confirms Samuel’s admonishment with a storm and the people ask Samuel to intercede for them and have G-d stop the storm. The ending of this haftarah expresses what we must engrain in our minds and constantly demonstrate through our thoughts and actions; “For G-d will not forsake His people for His great names’ sake; for G-d has sworn to make you a people for Himself.”
B’rit Chadashah: 2 Timothy 2:8-21
This letter is one of encouragement from Paul to Timothy who is younger in the faith than Paul, and is discouraged because of the constant arguing and needless babbling among those who profess belief in Messiah. We read in 2 Tim 2:12 and forward: “If we have died with him (Messiah Yahshua), we (future) also live with him. If we persevere, we will also rule with him. If we disown him (through our thoughts or behaviors), he will also disown us. If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself. Keep reminding the people of this, and charge them solemnly before the Lord not to engage in word battles. They accomplish nothing useful and are a catastrophe for the hearers! Do all you can to present yourself to G-d as someone worthy of his approval, as a worker with no need to be ashamed, because he deals straightforwardly with the Word of the Truth. But keep away from godless babbling, for those who engage in it will only become more ungodly, and their teaching will eat away at people like gangrene. … The L-rd knows his own, and let everyone who claims he belongs to the L-rd stand apart from wrongdoing.”
This passage echoes the parashah, once again validating the truth and reliability of the Old Testament, and its applicability for us today. The sins of Hymenaeus, Alexander, and Philetus spoken of in 1 and 2 Timothy, were that these men spoke against a physical resurrection. They considered it figuratively or metaphorically. That is, the only resurrection was from ignorance to truth or from sin to righteousness. Their teaching in the assembly divided the people just as people who teach against Yahshua as the Messiah do in so-called Messianic synagogues where the people are not well-grounded enough in Torah to rebuke these individuals or have rabbis who are afraid of confrontation for the sake of upholding G-d’s Torah. This type of fear is exactly what Paul is addressing with Timothy. Paul was no push-over as he “turned them [Hymenaeus and Alexander] over to the Adversary, so that they will learn not to insult G-d.” (1 Tim: 20).
Today we hear all sorts of comments about people’s frustrations and fears about being watched by “big brother” and our loss of privacy. We should be more concerned about the One who is watching the entire world, the thoughts and actions of every living creature. May we be found to be good and faithful servants when we stand before Him (Matt. 25:21).
Rabbi Tamah Davis