Yom Rishon, 16 AdarI 5781
Sunday, 28 February 2021
Parashat Korach

Parashat Korach
Rabbi Michael Standfield

7 June 2013

This week’s parashah, Korach, tells of the rebellion of Korach, Dathan, Abiram and On against Moses and Aaron because of their presumption to take upon themselves the leadership of Israel.  Together with 250 leaders of the community, they accused Moses and Aaron of acting ‘holier than thou’ over the leadership of the House of Israel.

The reason given for the uprising is envy and jealousy, as can be read in Psalm 106 v.16:

16 They were jealous also of Moses in the camp, and of Aaron the holy one of the LORD.
17 The earth opened and swallowed up Dathan, and covered the company of Abiram.
18 And a fire was kindled in their company; the flame burned up the wicked.

The result of the challenge is the death of Korach, Dathan, Abiram, On and 250 of their supporters.  If that wasn’t enough, following a rebellion of the people, a further 14,000 plus died of the plague.

Wonderful family reading, or not as the case may be.  Hardly bedtime stories for the children.

Whereas the general opinion is that the rebellion was based on jealousy and envy, there could have been another very good reason why Korach challenged for leadership.  Korach was a relation of Moses and Aaron, a Levite who, as Moses reminds him, had been honoured by given special duties in the sanctuary and opportunities for leadership.  So what could have been the reason?

If we look into the genealogy of Korach, we have to trace the descendency of the different branches of the family from Levi.  Amram, father of Moses and Aaron, was the brother of Izhar, Hebron and Uziel. Now, Korach was the eldest son of Izhar, yet when leadership appointments were made Korach sees Moses and Aaron appointed as secular and religious leaders of the community.  This was perfectly acceptable as Amram was the eldest of the 4 brothers.  So far so good.  However, Korach has to stand by to see Elizaphan, the eldest son of Uziel, who was the youngest brother of Amram, placed in the august position of Prince of the Kohathites.  This angered Korach because, as the first-born of Izhar, who was the second eldest brother of Amram, he saw himself overlooked by Moses’ appointment of Elizaphan.  He must have harboured this grudge for some time but, no longer able to contain himself, we have this Midrashic view of him raising his angry voice in public, stating “I am the next in age, the appointment is rightfully mine” and much more.

Looking at it objectively, we can see that Moses acted unjustly; he should not have promoted a younger family member over the elder.  Many commentators sympathise with Korach’s argument, they see that bypassing Korach, the eldest son of the second eldest brother of Amram, Moses has broken with tradition of appointing the eldest before the youngest, which set off a deeply-felt resentment, culminating in this uprising.

This Midrashic interpretation teaches us the importance of treating family members fairly and equally, as much as possible.  This is especially important when dealing with grandchildren.  When you deal with your own children, this is one family.  However, often, grandchildren emanate from several families and this can create envy, jealousy and, ultimately, hostility.  Obviously, abilities and circumstances will play an important part in one’s feelings, but the important thing is to recognise that all your grandchildren are people in their own right, and should be afforded equal love and respect.

Following on from the actions of Korach and his associates, we are reminded that all our disputes should be for the sake of heaven, like those of Hillel and Shamai, and not like those of Korach, for selfish reasons.