Marc Chagall

2024-07-06 - Parashah Korach

Torah: Bamidbar (Numbers) 16:1 – 18:32; Haftarah: 1 Samuel 11:14 — 12:22

The Attributes of a Leader

This Torah portion is about the qualities of a leader. It tells the story of Korach who led a rebellion against Moshe and Aharon challenging their leadership during their journey through the wilderness. Moshe accepts the challenge by asking the LORD to reveal who are the ones whom He chose to lead the nation. The LORD’s response has a clear message. He causes the earth to open up swallowing the rebels and sends a heavenly fire to consume the two hundred-fifty who conspired in the rebellion. When the entire assembly further challenges Aharon's leadership, each of the twelve tribes is asked to bring a rod marked with their name before the Tent of Meeting in order for the LORD to reveal whom He will choose. In the morning Aaron's rod had budded, blossomed, and produced ripe almonds thus showing to the congregation that the LORD chose Aharon. This rod, together with the manna and the Torah tablets, were later to be placed in the Ark of the Covenant as a memorial of people’s wilderness experience.

The rebellion of Korach is different from the previous complains about the lack of water or food, or even Miriam’s wanting equality with Moshe. This rebellion is about overthrowing Moshe and Aharon as the leaders of the nation. The exact timing of the rebellion is debated by the scholars because the Parashah is not specific as to what compelled Korach to rebel. Some say that it happened right after the inauguration of the Tabernacle when Aharon and his sons were designated to replace the firstborn as the only ones who would perform the sacrificial service. This could have angered Korach, who was himself a first born, and would have been easy at this point to enlist the two hundred-fifty leaders of the assembly who were also firstborns. Other scholars argue that the Torah follows at this point a chronological order of events, thus, the rebellion was after the incident of the spies and it was a result of the decree that everyone over twenty would die in the Wilderness.

Because the Torah does not reveal the exact motive of the rebellion, it focuses instead on the response of Moshe and Aharon in the face of adversity. It teaches two of the fundamental principles of what makes a leader: humility and relationship with God. On hearing Korach speak, Moshe fell on his face; a sign of humility and prayer. Moshe's first reaction was to pray to God and ask for guidance. God’s response to Moshe’s prayer was a sign of mercy, giving Korach and the 250 leaders time to think it over by asking them to come back in the morning with their fire-pans with fire in them, a warning, and hopefully a deterrent, by alluding to the Aharon’s sons who brought strange fire before the LORD after which they were consumed. With this instruction, the LORD was giving them a chance to repent. But the hearts of the rebellious ones could not be changed even after much pleading from Moshe showing them that their rebellion was actually against God. Dathan and Abiram brazenly castigated Moshe as a failed leader who took the nation from the prosperity of Egypt to a lingering death in the Wilderness. In doing so they mocked God twisting His words by describing the land of their servitude, Egypt, with the same words as the Promise Land, a land of milk and honey.

Paralleling this incident we find similar situations arising in the assembly of believers in the first century. People who would not believe but were possessed by a spirit of contradiction and rebellion against God, for we read in the epistle of Yehuda: “Chaverim, although I was very eager to write to you concerning the salvation we share, it suddenly became necessary to write you an urgent appeal to fight for the Faith, which was once for all time handed over and transmitted to the Kadoshim. For certain men, written down long ago for this condemnation, have infiltrated our ranks, men twisting the grace of our God into a license for sensual self-indulgence and denying our only Master and Lord, Yeshua haMoshiach. Now I wish to remind you, though you are fully informed, that the LORD, who once saved a people from Eretz Mitzrayim, afterwards destroyed those who did not believe… These men slander whatever they do not understand; and what they do understand instinctively, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed. Oy to them! Because they walked in the way of Kayin and to the error of Balaam they surrendered for gain and perished in the rebellion of Korach! These men are hidden reefs at your agape-feasts, feasting with you without fear, shepherding themselves, waterless clouds being carried away by winds, autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, torn up from their roots, wild waves of the sea, foaming up their evil deeds, wandering stars for whom the gloom of darkness has been reserved forever.”

These are harsh words but sin must be confronted head on.

Just as in the rebellion of Korach when it was necessary for the LORD to reveal those who were approved, so, too, in a congregation of believers it may be necessary for God to use the rebellion of some to reveal the true believers as the apostle Shaul encountered in the assembly at Corinth: “When you come together as a kehillah I hear there exist divisions among you, and partly I believe it. For it is necessary also for factions among you in order that those who are approved may become manifest among you.” 1 Corinthians 11:18-19. The Brit Chadashah not only gives us examples of godly people, but explicitly tells us what the qualities of the approved ones are, especially of the leaders because, as in the case of Moshe and Aharon, the leaders are not only targeted by haSatan, the Adversary, but also they are held to a higher standard as shepherds of God’s people.

One such example is in 1 Timothy 3:2-12: “It is necessary, therefore, for the congregational leader to be without reproach, husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not indulging in much wine, not violent but gentle, not a quarrelsome person, not a lover of money. He must be one who can manage his own household well, having his children in submission with all respect. Now if anyone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the Kehillah of the LORD? He must not be a new believer, lest, having become a conceited person, he might fall into the judgment of haSatan. Now it is necessary also for him to have a good name with the outsiders, lest he might fall into reproach and the snare of haSatan. The Shammashim similarly must be respectable men, not double-tongued, not indulging in much wine, not a lover of dishonest gain, keeping the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let these also be tested before holding office, if they prove beyond reproach. Women serving as Shammashim similarly must be respectable, not malicious gossips, but temperate and faithful in all things. Let the Shammashim be husbands of one wife, managing well their children and their own households.” As in Moshe’s case, the mark of a leader is humility and a desire to serve others.

Please pray for our spiritual leaders. May God keep them in His care and grace. May God have mercy on us also and not be like Korach, but putting on the whole armor of God - study, prayer, love and good deeds - be a wall of protection around our spiritual leaders because they need us as much as we need them.

Shabbat joy, peace, and blessings! Shabbat Shalom!

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