Light from the Sidra

Korach (‘Korah’). 9th July 2016. 3rd Tammuz 5776

Torah: Numbers 16:1–18:32. Haftarah: 1 Samuel 11:14–12:22


Five years ago, the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, Jonathan Sacks published The Dignity of Difference and almost immediately had to retract a view he expressed which suggested that all religions lead to God. His Orthodox Jewish opponents forcefully reminded him that Judaism alone is the true religion.

Having served as a minister of religion myself, I have never been able to understand why anyone would of their own volition aspire to such a position. I can understand the attraction of politics as a career even though, as everyone knows, you can’t please all the people all the time. However, as a minister (if you do the job right), you have to please God first and foremost and it’s a bonus if you happen to please the people also.

Unless you are ‘called’ by God to be his representative, it will all end in tears. Even if you are called by God to be his minister, it might still end in tears but for some inexplicable reason, there are men and women who think a ministerial career is a means of self-aggrandisement.

Which brings us to Korah and his chums. The Levites had been set aside as God’s ministers to assist the priests in their duties and they had the privilege and responsibility of transporting the furniture, utensils and coverings of the tabernacle when the camp of Israel moved on. That was a great honour but it wasn’t enough for Korah and his mates. They wanted the priesthood too.

Although it was true that ‘all the congregation is holy’, Korah’s accusation that Moses and Aaron had exalted themselves above the congregation was totally unfounded. The implication was that Moses and Aaron had used their exalted position to their own advantage, which is no doubt why Moses stated that he had not taken so much as an ass from the people (16:15). We see a similar situation in the Haftarah.

Vindication was required.

God would make known to Israel who was ‘holy’. And he would do it in three ways.

First, he would judge the rebels. God chose Moses to be his prophet, and Aaron and his sons to be priests. The two brothers had not appointed themselves to the offices they held; therefore Korah’s rebellion was not so much against Moses and Aaron as against God. Two hundred and fifty rebels with priestly censers were to stand before God the next day and the people would see that it was not enough simply to have the trappings of priesthood. As Korah and his company stood before God the earth opened, swallowing the opponents of Moses and Aaron.

Astonishingly, on the second day, the day after the death of the rebels by what could only be a supernatural visitation, the entire community accused Moses and Aaron of killing HASHEM’s people. A plague broke out and Aaron, the divinely appointed mediator, had to bring to an end to its lethal effects. He outran the pestilence until he stood between the dead and the living and the plague stopped with him. Aaron’s act of atonement was the second supernatural accreditation of holiness and by it his high priesthood was affirmed.

One final divine act established Aaron as high priest and mediator. The leaders of the tribes brought rods representing their authority (matteh can be translated as either ‘rod’ or ‘tribe’) and left them overnight in the tabernacle ‘before HASHEM’. On the morning of the third day, Aaron’s rod was found to have leaves and fruit; it had become super-alive! The budding of Aaron’s staff on the third day was the ultimate vindication of its owner's holiness and priesthood. What greater evidence of approbation could God present than resurrection!

To rebel against God’s appointed mediators is to rebel against the God who appointed and called them; and the consequence of rebellion is terrifying. In Gan Eden, spiritual death and eventual physical extinction resulted from eating of the forbidden tree. In Numbers 16 and 17 too, rebellion resulted in death.

Although he did not need to, God graciously provided evidence that Aaron was his anointed mediator, appointed to stand between himself and the people. Aaron atoned for the sin of the people and God caused his staff to bring forth leaves and almonds. In this respect, Aaron prefigured Israel’s ultimate high priest. The resurrection of Jesus on the third day after making atonement for sins and descending into Sheol was a divine declaration that he is the great high priest, the mediator of the B’rit Hadasha, the New Covenant God promised to establish with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.

If the rejection of Aaron as HASHEM’s anointed high priesthood resulted in death, can the rejection of Messiah, God’s ultimate High Priest be less deserving of death? The people who rebelled against Moses and Aaron had been persuaded to side with Korah in spite of the evidence that the two men had been chosen by God. To this day, Jewish tradition has persuaded millions of devout Jewish people to reject their Messiah in spite of the greatest of all proofs; his resurrection from the dead on the third day!

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