Light from the Sidra

Korash ('Korah') 19th June 2015. 3rd Tammuz 5775

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

Please note that unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from Tanach (The Artscroll™ Series/Stone Edition, April 2013. Published and Distributed by Mesorah Publications, Ltd, 4401 Second Avenue / Brooklyn, New York 11232)


Man alive

On this day in the Jewish calendar 21 years ago Menachem Mendel Schneerson, known to his followers as The Rebbe, died at the age of 92. In the last years of his long life a growing number of his followers believed he was the Moshiach and that the redemption of Israel was just around the corner. Following his death, some confidently asserted that the Rebbe would rise from his grave. However, two decades on, no one has ever come forward claiming to have seen the risen Rebbe walking the streets of the Big Apple.

In Numbers 17 a miracle of resurrection takes place when, as ‘a sign to rebellious ones’ Aaron’s staff blossoms and sprouts ripe almonds. In chapter 16, the Levite Korah challenges the authority of Moses and Aaron. He wants the honour of not only serving in the Tabernacle but also of being a priest. Perhaps he even coveted the office of High Priest. Dathan and Abiram are descendants of Reuben, Israel’s firstborn, ‘foremost in rank and foremost in power’ (Genesis 49:3).’ Being sons of Israel’s firstborn, they probably thought they deserved the highest positions in Israel but, like their father however, they possessed a ‘water-like impetuosity.’

No sooner had HASHEM authenticated the leadership roles of Moses and Aaron by causing the earth to swallow Korah, Dathan and Abiram than the people turn against them: ‘The entire assembly of the Children of Israel complained on the morrow against Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘You have killed the Children of HASHEM!’ (Numbers 17:8). As a response to such outrageous falsehood HASHEM sent a plague on the people, which Aaron halted by standing between the people and the plague with fire taken from the altar on which the atoning sacrifices were offered.

If that act of atonement were not enough to confirm HASHEM’s choice of Aaron to represent him to the people and the people to him, HASHEM performed a miracle. The tribal leaders of Israel were to present their staves to Moses and he was to lay them before the Ark of the Covenant. The next day, ‘the staff of Aaron… had blossomed; it brought forth a blossom, sprouted a bud and almonds blossomed’ (Numbers 17:23). The rod manifested every stage of the almond tree’s development, from flower to fully ripened fruit, overnight!

The miracle was a great testimony to the character of HASHEM. It demonstrated his immeasurable compassion and his willingness to teach his people in spite of their thanklessness, ingratitude and rebellion. Instead of coming upon Israel in judgement for their rebellion, he provided a powerful object lesson for them by bringing forth full and abundant life out of dead wood. This vivid object lesson showed what the Almighty could do and, indeed, what he had done and will do for the Jewish people; he is the God who brings life from the dead. But how did Israel react to this mighty but gracious act of God? They responded with fear!

The Hebrew name for almond – shaqed – comes from a root word meaning to be ‘awake,’ or ‘alert.’ In the Middle East the almond tree is known for its dramatic ‘awakening’ in winter, when it blooms before all the other trees. In the Midrash on Numbers, Aaron’s staff was ‘held in the hand of every king until the Temple was destroyed, and then it was [divinely] hidden away. That same staff is also destined to be held in the hand of the King Messiah… as it says, The staff of thy strength the Lord will send out of Zion; Rule thou in the midst of thine enemies (Ps. cx, 2).’

What a great picture of Messiah Aaron’s resurrected rod sets before us. Followers of the Rebbe were right to believe Messiah would rise from the dead because King David wrote of him. David says concerning the Messiah, ‘I have set HASHEM before me always; because He is at my right hand I shall not falter. For this reason my heart rejoices and my soul is elated; my flesh, too, rests in confidence; because You will not abandon my soul to the grave, You will not allow Your devout One to witness destruction. You will make known to me the path of life…’ [Ps. 16:8-11].

The patriarch David died and was buried and his tomb in Jerusalem to this day. But David was more than just the great king of Israel; he was a prophet. Knowing HASHEM had sworn to him with an oath that from him he would raise up the Messiah to sit on his throne. [Psalm 132:11; 2 Samuel 7:12] David prophesied that Messiah was not left in the grave neither was Messiah’s body destroyed. HASHEM kept his promise and oath to David by raising Jesus from the grave. David also spoke about Jesus as the Messiah in Psalm 110:1: ‘The word of HASHEM to my master, “Wait at my right, until I make your enemies a stool for your feet.”’

Just as HASHEM raised Aaron’s rod from the dead, so to speak, in order to authenticate Aaron’s high priesthood, so also he raised Jesus, a descendant of David, designating and powerfully demonstrating him to be the Son of God, Messiah and Lord. For the last 2,000 years Jews –sometimes in large numbers, sometime less –have believed Jesus is the resurrected Son of God, and Messiah and Lord.

Someone who reads this is bound to be thinking, ‘How does anyone know that Jesus rose from the dead?’ The same question might also be asked of this week’s Parasha: ‘How does anyone know that Aaron’s staff really budded? We believe the account of Aaron’s staff because it was recorded by Moses the man of God; we believe also in the resurrection of Messiah because of the testimony of Moses, David, the four Gospel writers and others.

In spite of the intense longing of the Rebbe’s disciples for their ‘Moshiach’ to rise from the grave, two decades later he’s still buried in the Old Montefiore Cemetery in New York. In spite of attempts over two millennia to dismiss the resurrection of Jesus, however, there are still Jews and Gentiles who believe he is risen and that he is Messiah and Lord, and they claim to know him in a personal way. It seems, therefore, that the only way a story of a resurrection can get off the ground and to keep flying is if it really happened!

And, like in the account of the rebirth of Aaron’s rod, the resurrection is an event that demonstrates God’s mercy to you and me, rebellious though we are. It’s a message of life. Don’t be afraid. Repent and believe, and you’ll live forever!

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