There are two rebellions this week. First, Korach, a Levite, was passed over for the leadership of his tribe and then challenges Moshe over the position of High Priest. No good rebellion can be “sold” as a means for personal gain, so Korach convinces 250 men of renown that they must stand up for a matter of principle — that each and every one of them has the right to the office of High Priest (which Moshe had announced that God had already designated his brother, Aharon, to serve).
Fascinatingly, all 250 followers of Korach accept Moshe’s challenge to bring an offering of incense to see who God will choose to fill the one position. This meant that every man figured he would be the one out of 250 to not only be chosen, but to survive the ordeal. Moshe announces that if the earth splits and swallows up the rebels it is a sign that he (Moshe) is acting on God’s authority. And thus it happened!
The next day the entire Israelite community rises in a second rebellion and complains to Moshe, “You have killed God’s people!” The Almighty brings a plague which kills 14,700 people and only stops when Aharon offers an incense offering.
To settle the question once and for all, Moshe has the head of each tribe bring a staff with his name on it. The next morning only Aharon’s staff had blossomed and brought forth almonds. The people were shown this sign. Aharon’s staff was placed in front of the curtain of the ark as testimony for all time.
R. Kalman Packouz
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from Twerski on Chumash by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.
When one reads the account of Korach’s rebellion (Numbers 16:1-35), one is astounded by the incident. Not only was Moses the one who led the Jews from Egypt, but all the Israelites were eyewitnesses to the many miracles that were wrought though him. They saw him wave his staff over the Reed Sea, causing the waters to divide. There could be no doubt that he was commissioned by God to be the leader. How could anyone question the authenticity of Moses’ leadership? It simply defies all logic.
Rashi quotes the Midrash which raises this question: How could Korach, a wise and learned person, act so foolishly? The Midrash answers that Moses had appointed another Levite to be leader of the tribe of Levi, and Korach was envious of this.
Can envy so deprive a person of logical thinking that one would deny the evidence of one’s own eyes?
Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz (Sichos Mussar 5731:21) explains citing the Talmudic statement, “Envy, lust and pursuit of acclaim remove a person from the world” (Ethics of the Fathers 4:28). The expression “remove a person from the world” is rather strange. Rabbi Shmulevitz elucidates that the usual deviation from proper behavior is a very gradual one. The Talmud says that the tactic of one’s desires (yetzer hara) is to seduce a person to commit a very minor infraction, then lead him on to progressively more serious transgressions (Shabbos 108b). That is the nature and order of the world. One’s desires will not entice a person into doing something patently absurd.
However, if a person is overtaken by envy, one escapes the natural order of the world. One is no longer bound by logic. The passion of envy can be so great that it can overwhelm all rational thought, and leave one vulnerable to behave in the most irrational manner. Envy indeed removes a person from the natural order of the world. This is why Moses delayed the trial until the next day — to let Korach come back to his senses.