Numbers (BeMidbar) 16:1 – 18:32
Korach son of Yitz’har , a grandson of Kehoth and great-grandson of Levi, began a rebellion along with Dathan and Aviram (sons of Eliav) and On son of Peleth, descendants of Reuben. They had a confrontation with Moses along with 250 Israelites who were men of rank in the community, representatives at the assembly, and famous. They demonstrated against Moses and Aaron, and said to them,
“You have gone too far! All the people in the community are holy, and HaShem is with them. Why are you setting yourselves above HaShem’s congregation?”
When Moses heard this, he threw himself on his face.
Then he spoke to Korach and his whole party.
“Tomorrow morning, HaShem will show that He knows who is His and who is holy, and He will bring them close to Him. He shall choose those who shall be allowed to present offerings to HaShem.
This is what you must do: Let Korach and his entire party take fire pans. Tomorrow, place fire on them and offer incense on them before God. The man whom God chooses shall then be the holy one. You sons of Levi have also gone too far!”
Moses tried to reason with Korach
“Listen , sons of Levi. Isn’t it enough that the G-d of Israel has separated you from the community of Israel? He has brought you close to Him, allowing you to serve in G-d’s Tabernacle and to minister as the community’s leaders. Although He gave this privilege to you and all your fellow Levites, you are now also demanding the priesthood! It is actually against God that you and your party are demonstrating! After all, who is Aaron that you should have grievances against him?”
Moses then sent word to summon Dathan and Aviram, the sons of Eliav.
‘We won’t come!’ was their response. “Isn’t it enough that you brought us out Egypt, a land flowing with milk and honey – just to kill us in the desert! What right do you have to set yourself above us? You didn’t bring us to a land flowing with milk and honey, or give us inheritance of fields and vineyards. Do you think that you can pull something over our eyes? We will definitely not come!”
Moses became very angry. He prayed to HaShem, “Do not accept their offering. I did not take a single donkey from them! I did not do any of them any harm!”
Moses then said to Korach. “You and all your party will have to present yourselves before God. You and your party will be there tomorrow along with Aaron. Each man shall take his fire pan and place incense on it, and each one shall then present it before HaShem. There will be250 fire pans besides the pans that you and Aaron will have.”
Each one took his fire pan, placed fire on it, and then offered incense. They stood at the Communion Tent entrance along with Moses and Aaron. Then, when Korach had rallied his whole party to the Communion Tent entrance, HaShem’s glory suddenly became visible to the entire community.
Moses Intercedes for Israel
HaShem spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying,
“Separate yourselves from this community, and I will destroy them in an instant.”
Moses and Aaron fell on their faces. They prayed. “Omnipotent G-d of all living souls. If one man sins, shall You direct divine wrath at the entire community?”
HaShem spoke to Moses, telling him to announce to the entire community, “Withdraw from the tent of Korach, Dathan and Aviram.”
Moses went over to Dathan and Aviram and was followed by the elders of Israel,. He announced to the community, “Get away from the tents of these evil men. Do not touch anything that is theirs, lest you be swept away because of all their sins.”
The people withdrew from around the tent of Korach, Dathan and Aviram. Dathan and Aviram went out and stood defiantly at the entrance of their tents, along with their wives, sons and infants.
Moses announced, “This shall demonstrate to you that HaShem sent me to do all these deeds and I did not make up anything myself. If these men die like all other men, and share the common fate of man, then HaShem did not send me. But if HaShem creates something entirely new, making the earth open its mouth and swallow them and all that is theirs, so that they descend to the depths alive, then it is these men who are making HaShem angry.”
Moses had hardly finished speaking when the ground under Dathan and Aviram split. The earth opened its mouth, and swallowed them and their houses, along with all the men who were with Korach and their property. They fell into the depths along with all that was theirs. The earth then covered them over, and they were lost to the community. Hearing their cries, all the Israelites around them screamed that the earth would also swallow them up, and they began to run away. Fire then came down from HaShem, and it consumed the 250 men who were presenting the incense.
The Incense Pans
HaShem spoke to Moses, saying, “Tell Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, that the fire pans have been sanctified, and he must gather them up from the burned area. He shall then scatter the burning coals far and wide. The fire pans belonging to the men who committed a mortal sin have been presented before me and thus sanctified, so he shall make them into beaten plates to cover the altar. Let this be a sign for the Israelites.”
Eleazar took the copper fire pans that the victims of the fire had presented, and he beat them flat as a covering for the altar. It was to be a reminder for the Israelites, so that no one other than a descendant of Aaron shall bring unauthorized fire and burn incense before HaShem. They shall then not be like Korach and his party. Eleazar thus did as HaShem had told him through Moses.
Fear and Complaint
The next day the entire Israelite community began to complain to Moses, “You have killed G-d’s people!” they exclaimed.
The people were demonstrating against Moses and Aaron, when they turned toward the Communion Tent. It was suddenly covered with the cloud, and G-d’s glory appeared. Moses and Aaron went to the front of the Communion Tent.
Aaron Saves the People
God spoke to Moses, saying, “Stand clear of this community and I will destroy them in an instant.”
Moses and Aaron threw themselves on their faces. Moses then said to Aaron, “Take the fire pan and place on it some fire from the altar. Offer incense and go quickly to the community to make atonement for them. Divine wrath is coming forth from God. The plague has already begun!”
Aaron took the pans as Moses had told him, and he ran to the middle of the assembled masses, where the plague had already begun to kill people. He offered the incense to atone for the people.
He stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was checked. The number of people who died in that plague was 14,700. These were in addition to the ones who died because of Korach’s rebellion. When the plague had been stopped, Aaron returned to Moses at the Communion Tent entrance.
Test of the Staffs
God spoke to Moses, telling him to speak to the Israelites and take a staff from each paternal tribe.
“Twelve staffs shall thus be taken from all the leaders, one for each of their paternal tribes. Let each man write his name on his staff. Since there shall be only one staff for the head of each paternal tribe, write Aaron’s name on Levi’s staff. Place [the staffs] in the Communion Tent, before the Ark of Testimony where I commune with you. The staff of the man who is My choice will then blossom. I will thus rid Myself of the complaints that the Israelites are directing at you.”
Moses spoke to the Israelites, and each of the leaders gave him a staff for his paternal tribe. There were twelve staffs, with Aaron’s staff among them. Moses placed the staffs before God in the Testimony Tent. The next day, when Moses came to the Testimony Tent, Aaron’s staff, representing the house of Levi, had blossomed. It had given forth leaves, and was now producing blossoms and almonds were ripening on it. Moses brought all the staffs out from before God, and let all the Israelites see them. Each man took his own staff.
HaShem said to Moses, “Put Aaron’s staff back there before the Ark of Testimony as a keepsake. Let it be a sign for anyone who wants to rebel. This should put an end to their complaints to Me, and then they will not die.”
Moses did exactly as God had instructed him.
Duties of Priests and Levites
HaShem said to Aaron:
“You, along with your sons and your paternal tribe shall erase any sin associated with the Sanctuary. You and your descendants will also erase any sin associated with your priesthood. Also bring close to you your brothers, the members of your father’s tribe, Levi. Let them be your associates and minister to you and your descendants before the Testimony Tent. The Levites will be entrusted with their responsibilities toward you and the Tent, but they shall not approach the sacred furniture or the altar, so that you and they not die. The Levites shall be your associates and they shall be entrusted with responsibility for the Communion Tent and all the Tent’s service. Let no unauthorized person join them.
Let them be entrusted with responsibility for the sanctuary and the altar, so that there not be any more divine wrath directed at the Israelites. I have thus taken your brethren the Levites from among the other Israelites as a gift to you. They are given over to God to perform the Communion Tent service. You and your sons shall be entrusted with your priesthood, so that your service shall include everything that pertains to the altar and to anything inside the cloth partition. This is the gift of service that I have given you as your priesthood. Any unauthorized person who participates shall die. ”
The Priestly Share
HaShem said to Aaron:
“I have given you responsibility for My elevated gifts. I am thus giving you all the sacred gifts of the Israelites as part of your anointment. These shall be an eternal portion for your descendants. Among the fire offerings that are holy of holies, the following shall be yours: All the Israelites’ sacrifices, all their grain offerings, all their sin offerings, all their guilt offerings, and everything that they return to Me. These shall be holy of holies to you and your descendants. Every male priest may eat these offerings, but you must eat them in a most holy area, since they must remain holy to you. This is what shall be bestowed as an elevated gift to you: All the Israelites’ wave offerings are given to you, along with your sons and daughters, as an everlasting portion. Everyone in your household who is ritually clean may eat them. The dedicated portion of oil, wine and grain that must initially be presented to God is now given to you. The first fruit of all that grows in your land, which is presented to God, shall be yours. Everyone in your household who is ritually clean may eat it. Everything that the Israelites declare taboo shall be yours. The first fruits of the womb, that must be presented to me, among man and beast, shall be yours. However, you must redeem first-born humans, as well as the first-born of unclean animals. The redemption of a first-born human male from one month old, shall be made with the usual endowment of 5 shekels by the sanctuary standard, where the shekel is 20 gerahs. You must not, however, redeem the first-born of an ox, sheep or goat, since such first-born are sacred. You must therefore dash their blood on the altar, and burn their choice parts as an appeasing fragrance to me. Their flesh shall then belong to you like the chest presented as a wave offering and the right thigh of peace offerings. I have thus given you, together with your sons and daughters, as an eternal portion, the elevated gifts from the sacred offerings that the Israelites present to me. For you and your descendants, this is a covenant that shall be preserved forever before God.
You will not have any inheritance in the land of the Israelites. and you will not have a portion among them. I Myself shall be a portion and inheritance among the Israelites.”
The Levitical Share
“To the descendants of Levi, I am now giving all the tithes in Israel as an inheritance. This is in exchange for their work, the service that they perform in the Communion Tent. The other Israelites shall therefore no longer come forth to the Communion Tent, since they can then become guilty of sin and die. Instead, the necessary service in the Communion Tent will be performed by the Levites, and they will expiate the sins of the Israelites. It shall be an eternal law for future generations that the Levites not have any land inheritance.
Instead, the inheritance that I am giving the Levites shall consist of the tithes of the Israelites, which they separate as an elevated gift. I have therefore told the Levites that they shall not have any land inheritance among the Israelites. ”
The Levites’ Priestly Gifts
HaShem spoke to Moses, telling him to speak to the Levites and say to them:
“When you take from the Israelites the tithe that I have given you as your inheritance from them, you must separate from it an elevated gift to G-d, a tithe of the tithe. This tithe given to you by the Israelites is your own elevated gift. and it is exactly like grain from the threshing floor or wine from the vat. You must therefore separate an elevated gift from all the tithes that you take from the Israelites, and you must give it as G-d’s elevated gift to Aaron the priest. Thus, from all that is given to you, you must separate God’s elevated gift, taking a sanctified portion as its dedicated tithe for the priest. After you have separated out the dedicated tithe for the priest, the rest shall be for all the Levites exactly like ordinary produce from the threshing floor and wine vat. You and your household can eat it anywhere you desire, since it is your wage for your service in the Communion Tent. Therefore, after you have separated out the dedicated tithe, you will not bear any sin because of it. You will thus not profane the sacred offerings of the Israelites, and you will not die. ”
Next Week’s Parsha : Chukath Numbers 19:1 – 22:1
Next Week’s Haftara: Judges 11.1-33