This week’s parshat Korach has Bnei Yisrael yet again questioning the gifts that Hashem has provided them in the desert.
While this week’s complaints are new, some of the wording of the story is oddly familiar to us. We’ve seen it before, but in a completely different scenario.
Korach, an uncle to Moshe and Aharon, questions their legitimacy as leaders. Korach finds it awfully convenient that two brothers share the two most important roles in the Jewish Nation. Specifically, Aharon’s role as high priest and his children’s monopoly on the priesthood.
Moshe bears Korach’s accusations and asks him and his followers to return the following day to a sacrifice-off. Korach’s camp will offer sacrifices to Hashem and at the same time, Aharon will do the same. Only time will tell how G-d will react to everyone’s offering.
In a move not unexpected, the following day Hashem reacts in anger to Korach’s offering and kills his entire entourage – but with a twist. They are not killed, but rather the ground opens and swallows them up. Moshe, with G-d’s encouragement, exclaims that nothing short of the miracle of the ground opening up – a change to the natural order of the world – would be enough to vindicate Moshe. And sure enough, as soon as Moshe is speaking the ground does exactly that, and swallows alive Korach’s followers (16:32): “Vatiftach haaretz et pihah vativla otam…” [And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up].
While we can view this as a punishment, it is more accurate to view the earth opening up as a correction. A restoration of the world to where it should have been. An act like this leaves no trace. It is as if these people – and their homes – never existed.
In Devarim, it is important to note that when recounting the story as part of the larger message of the importance of recognizing the assistance of Divine Hand, the Torah uses slightly different wording (11:6), “Asher patztah et haaretz et pihah.”
Having the earth open up is an extreme reaction, to say the least. But as I mentioned from the start, this isn’t the first time that G-d has needed to rectify a situation this way.
Back in Bereishit, we read how Kayin killed his brother Hevel. When rebuking Kayin, Hashem describes the killing act (4:11), “…you are cursed more than the ground, which opened wide its mouth to receive your brother’s blood…”. Like in Devarim, the Torah uses the exact phrase of “Asher patztah et pihah”.
The exact same wording surely cannot be a coincidence, yet these two stories seemingly have nothing in common.
We know that Moshe’s title wasn’t bestowed upon him by the elders of Israel. As a matter of fact, his position existed before there was even a Jewish Nation. Moshe’s leadership was presented to Bnei Yisrael right along with the statement that G-d would take them out of Egypt. The two went hand-in-hand. As a matter of fact, a quick glance at the text reveals that when Moshe is arguing with Hashem at the Burning Bush and exclaims (Shemot 4:1), “They [the Jewish Elders] will not believe me,” he is referring to both Hashem’s promise of deliverance and his own role as Hashem’s spokesperson. Said differently, Moshe’s status is part of the natural order of the world.
Back in Bereishit, it was only a few chapters before the story of killing of Hevel that G-d created man on the Sixth Day. Until Kayin came along, death hadn’t been introduced and was not part of the natural order of the world. Much like the Jews in Bamidbar, Kayin’s act was an affront to the way that G-d had created the world.
Such was the gravity of the sin of Korach and his followers in this week’s parsha. On par with the introduction of death, and the nullification of an act included in the creation of the world. There is a Divine order in this world. It is one that naturally exists and trying to undo it will force the earth to reinstall the order.
So too in our own lives, argument and debate are healthy. But they too must be grounded first and foremost in truth and in the Divine order of this world. We must always put G-d and the Torah first and acknowledge the natural way that the G-d established the world to work.