Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Korach / Korah B’midbar / Numbers 16:1 – 18:32

Korach / Korah     B’midbar / Numbers 16:1 – 18:32
Parashah #1 – B’midbar 16:1 – 13

Let us consider these portions of Scripture before
mulling over this week’s teaching.

Proverbs 6:12 – 15
“A naughty person, a wicked man, walks with a froward (perverse, not willing to yield) mouth.  He winks with his eyes, he speaks with his feet, he teaches with his fingers; frowardness is in his heart, he devises mischief continually; he sows discord.  Therefore shall his calamity come suddenly; suddenly shall he be broken without remedy.”

Proverbs 7:24 – 27
“Hearken unto me now therefore, o you children, and attend to the words of my mouth.  Let not your heart decline to her ways, go not astray in her paths.  For she has cast down many wounded: yea, many strong men have been slain by her.  Her house is the way to Hell, going down to the chambers of death.”

Proverbs 11:9a
“A hypocrite with his mouth destroys his neighbor…”

Proverbs 13:2 – 3
“A man shall eat good by the fruit of his mouth: but the souls of the transgressors shall eat violence.  He that keeps his mouth keeps his life: but he that opens wide his lips shall have destruction.”

Proverbs 20:17
“Bread of deceit is sweet to a man: but afterwards his mouth shall be
filled with gravel.”

Proverbs 30:32
“If you have done foolishly in lifting up yourself, or if you have thought evil,
lay your hand upon your mouth.”

            Our portion commences with a brief genealogy of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram who are this week’s antagonists.  And what is it that we learn from these genealogies?  Korah is a member of the tribe of Kohath, the levitical tribe that encamps on the south side of the tabernacle.  Dathan and Abiram are brothers, descendants of Reuben, and their encampment is also on the south side of the tabernacle, albeit a bit more distant from the tabernacle. 
            Due to the facts submitted here that Korah was a Levite while Dathan and Abiram were Reubenites, I would like us to consider the possibility that there was not one challenge to leadership going on here, but two.
            In verse one we are also informed that Korah “separated himself with Dathan and Abiram”.  Continuing the rest of the first paragraph (vss. 1 – 3) we notice that they stood before Moses with 250 men whom they had summoned.  Verse three begins with “(T)hey gathered together against Moses and Aaron”.  What did they say to Moses and Aaron?  These rebel leaders stated that the entire assembly were all holy and that they should not have to submit to the authority of Moses and Aaron.  Moses then does what we have come to expect of him; he falls on his face before the L-rd.
            Let us go back a moment though, and review what just occurred as well as what will take place in the upcoming verses.  Moses is the leader of the Children of Israel; perhaps we could call him the civil leader.  At the same time Aaron is the leader of the priesthood.  Certainly the leadership, whether they were brothers or not, needed to work in concert with each other.  Notice, however, who Moses spoke to first after he got up from seeking the heart and will of HaShem – Korah.  At this point he revealed what the L-rd had decreed was to take place the following morning.  We know what that was.  Korah and his followers were to take fire-pans, place fire in them, and then they were to also place incense in the fire-pans.  He gives them a final warning in verses eight through eleven which culminated with the following statement: "And as for   Aaron – what is he that you protest against him?”  It seems obvious to me that Korah’s protest was directed at Aaron’s leadership and call.
            However, nothing has been stated yet regarding Dathan and Abiram in this confrontation.  Apparently Korah confronted Moses and Aaron face-to-face.  It is at this point that Moses sets his attention upon Dathan and Abiram, Reubenites.  Reuben was the firstborn of Jacob’s offspring, but Judah is the tribe whose banner was pre-eminent on the east side of the tabernacle.  Reuben had been rendered subservient, and as such was the lead banner on the south side.  (A similar argument could be made for Korah’s encampment in comparison with that of Moses and Aaron.) 
            Moses summons the brothers, but they refuse to approach.  A picture has come to me.  Imagine Moses and Aaron at the side of the mishkan.  The levitical tribes were encamped closest to the tabernacle, and it seems quite apparent that Korah is the leader and instigator of both revolts.  As such he boldly approaches Moses and Aaron.  Dathan and Abiram, not being part of the levitical challenge, hang back by their own tents and encampment.  Once Moses has completed his dealings with Korah he then summons those next in line – the brothers.  Why did they refuse to come?  Obviously they were being disobedient, but maybe there is even a bit more to it than just that.  Perhaps they were being outright rebellious and stated by their action/inaction, “You cannot order us around any longer.  We will not put up with it.”  One result of them not approaching Moses is that they had to speak out more loudly their complaint, and conceivably they had planned it this way so that more of the congregation would hear their objection.
            Notice also the use of the word “you” in their challenges to Moses as we complete the first reading and actually proceed into the first verse of the next portion  – “you have brought us up from a land flowing with milk and honey,” “you seek to dominate us,” “you did not bring us to a land flowing with milk and honey nor give us heritage of a field and vineyard”.  This is a direct affront to Moses and his “civil” leadership.
            There is much more to be said of these two separate, but united challenges to authority and leadership, but most of those emanate from the following portions.  It is here that I would like to posit that these two tribes were adjacent to each other, but in order to do so, I must go to the third portion, chapter sixteen, verses twenty-four through twenty-seven and verses thirty-one and thirty-two.
            It has already been shown that both of the encampments were on the southern side of the tabernacle – with the Kohathites located between the mishkan and the Reubenites.  Likewise the people have been told to get away from the tents of these three leaders (16:24, 26 – 27).  The Hebrew word for “mouth” is פה (peh).  Its use in the singular form indicates that there was only one opening of the ground, and that opening consumed these men and their households.  Either that opening zigzagged around the other tents or the tents were in close proximity to each other and the earth opened its mouth in the same fashion that I would with a piece of warm apple pie a la mode.  I think that the zigzag option, while certainly possible, is a bit unwieldy.
            In closing, please permit me to summarize.  The challenge that is presented in this reading is not one, but two.  A challenge to priestly leadership is being brought in conjunction with a civil revolt.  One of these usurpation attempts is against Aaron while the other is against Moses.  Korah, in my opinion, abode in close proximity to Dathan and Abiram, and as a result of conversations between one another they had emboldened themselves to challenge the supreme leadership of the community, both civil and priestly.  Let us also recognize that both already had leadership roles of one type or another; neither one had been relegated to the position of least, though neither one seemed to like being “less than” any other tribe.
            Hebrews 13:5 (KJV) states “Let your conversation (manner, way, deportment) be without covetousness; and be content with such things as you have: for He has said ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’”  It seems obvious to me that conversations between Korah, Dathan, and Abiram were not held without covetousness; neither were the conversations they had with those who chose to follow them.

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