“All the best of the new oil, wine, and grain-the choice parts
that they present to the Lord-I give to you.” (Numbers 18:12)
Parashat Korach is a “mashup” of four separate rebellions: the Levites against Aaron; Datan and Aviram against Moses; the tribal chieftains against Aaron, and; the entire community against Moses and Aaron. Korach, the archtypic Jewish villain in rabbinic literature, is associated with all four, so he gets top billing. On the surface, the rebellions are about power (Who put you in charge?). Read more closely, they are parables about access to God and k’dusha, or sanctity. This idea is foreshadowed by a verse at the end of Sh’lach L’cha, last week’s parasha (portion).
Sh’lach L’cha closes with the admonition (with regard to tzitzit, or tassels), “Thus shall you be reminded to observe all My commandments and to be holy to your God.” (Num. 15:40). Korach feels k’dusha is an entitlement and that tzitzit are badges of holiness. That’s why he challenges Moses by saying, “For all the community is holy, all of them…” (Num. 16:3) Korach sees no reason for him not to have the same access to God as Moses (or Aaron). But tzitzit are supposed to be reminders of k’dusha. Holiness is not granted to us (as Korach thinks). Rather, it is a goal to achieve through the decisions we make. Korach learns his decisions are wrong the hard way; he and all his fellow rebels are swallowed up and killed in an earthquake.
Robert Alter, (1935-; Professor of Hebrew language and comparative literature at UC Berkeley, notes the skill with which the Torah weaves together the separate rebellions, which, according to him, are likely to have been completely separate events. The Torah does this to highlight the story’s spiritual truth, which is more important than its historical truth.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom