This Week’s Torah Portion – Korach

Name: Korach

Reading: Numbers 16:1 – 18:32

Haftarah: Samuel I 11:14 – 12:22

Parsha Summary – Korach

Korach is Swallowed into the Earth

A Levite called Korach, together with men from the tribe of Reuben – Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth – gather 250 men. They rally against Moses and Aaron, telling them that they have taken too much power over the Israelites. Moses falls flat on his face. He asks them is it not enough that they are already chosen to perform God’s work in the Sanctuary; must they have priesthood too? What has Aaron done that you speak against him?

Moses sends messengers to Dathan and Abiram but they do not come. They ask why they should die in the desert at the hands of a man who makes himself a priest over his compatriots. Moses is angry and asks God to reject their offerings.

Moses tells Korach and his people to prepare incense offerings. Two hundred and fifty men bring fire pans of incense to the tent of meeting, as does Aaron. God’s glory appears to the congregation. God tells Moses and Aaron to separate themselves from Korach’s congregation so that He can destroy them. Moses and Aaron beg God not to destroy the whole group for the skin of some people.

Moses tells the Israelites to move far away from the dwellings of Korach, Dathan, and Abiram. He warns them not to touch anything that belongs to them lest they be swept up by their sins. Dathan and Abiram and their families stand outside their tents.

Moses proclaims that what is about to happen is not his doing, but God’s command. If these men die like ordinary men, then God did not send me. But if God opens the ground like a grave and they fall into it alive, then you shall understand that they have despised the Lord.

As Moses finishes speaking, the ground opens beneath them. Korach, his followers, their families, and all their possessions are swallowed alive into the ground. God then sends fire to consume the 250 men who offered incense.

What Happened Next…

God tells Moses to command Aaron’s son Eleazar to burn the purified pans in which Korach’s people made their incense offering and turn them into beaten plates for the altar. This plating serves as a memorial to the people that no-one not of Aaron’s family could offer incense to the Lord.

But the next day, the Israelites still mutter against Moses and Aaron, saying that they have killed God’s people. God’s presence arrives over the Tent of Meeting and Moses and Aaron go to it. God says that they should separate themselves from the people so that He can destroy them. Moses and Aaron fall on their faces.

God sends a plague to wipe out the people. Moses tells Aaron to take his fire pan and burn incense on it to make atonement for the whole congregation. The plague stops – after 14,700 people die.

Aaron’s Staff Flowers

God wants to prove to the people that Aaron is His chosen priest. He tells Moses to tell the leader of each tribe to bring his staff to the Tent of Meeting and write his name on it. Aaron’s rod is given for the tribe of Levi. God says that He will pass over the staffs and the rod belonging to His chosen leader will bud.

Aaron’s staff buds and flowers and bears ripe almonds. Moses brings the rods back and each prince reclaims his barren one. God commands Moses to put Aaron’s staff back and keep it as a token against the rebellious tribes, so that they will know that God chose His leaders and stop muttering against them.

Priesthood is Conferred Upon Aaron and His Sons

God tells Aaron that he and his sons are to bear the burden of the sanctuary. The Levites will be bound in service to Aaron’s family and charged with keeping the Sanctuary and Tent of Meeting. They are chosen as a sign of God’s favour.

The male Levites may eat of the sacrifices, which are holy. The best oil, wine, corn, and first fruits are for the Levites. Every first-born animal and person belongs to the Levites too: babies and unclean animals must be redeemed for five shekels of silver. Firstborn clean animals are holy and must be sacrificed to God.

The Levites will not inherit a portion of land, but these statutes will provide them with food and money. They will also receive a tithe – the Israelites will pay tax and a portion is for the Levites. These items can be consumed outside of the Tent of Meeting as they are the Levites’ rewards for their service to God.