“And fire came forth from the Lord and devoured the two hundred and fifty men that offered the incense.” (Numbers 16:35)
The rift in communal solidarity that begins three weeks ago with Aaron and Miriam complaining, continuing last week with the spies complaining, becomes a complete rupture this week in Parashat Korach. Korach leads 250 rebels in a power play against Moses and Aaron (and God). Despite Moses’ three attempts to mediate the conflict, God kills Korach and his followers with an earthquake.
Korach’s challenge to Moses seems reasonable, on the face of it. Korach asks, “All the community are holy, all of them, and the Lord is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourself above God’s congregation?” (Numbers 13:3) And it would be, were Korach genuinely interested in the well-being of the community. But while Korach preaches egalitarianism, his real goal is replacing Moses at the top of the power hierarchy.
When Moses’ attempts to head off the rebellion fail, he prays to God, saying,”…Do not attend to their offering. I have not carried off one of their asses nor have I offended even one of them.“ (Num. 16:15) It is an odd prayer, because Moses surely knows God has no interest in the rebels’ sacrifices. And God surely know what Moses has or hasn’t done. Besides, what relevance do Moses’ actions have?
Avraham Twerski notes Moses is well aware of all of this as he prays for God’s help. Through prayer, Moses engages in humble self-examination and realizes he’s done nothing special to merit God’s attention. All he can say is he did not provoke Korach and his rabble. Moses prays, not because he expects to change God, but because he knows the act of prayer will change himself.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom