The desert rebellion of Korach and his associates was devastating.
This insurrection was complex – some resented the leadership of Moses; others resented Aaron taking the role of High Priest.
Such was the potential for damage, that Moses invoked a Divine wager in order to justify himself: “If these men die a normal death, and suffer the fate of all men, it is not from my heart; but if God creates a creation, and the earth opens its mouth… you shall know these men have angered God.”
Moses is dramatically vindicated: Korach and his supporters are swallowed up by the earth, and 250 men, with aspirations – or delusions – of being the one and only High Priest, offering incense, are consumed by a heavenly fire.
One would think that this would be the end of the story; however, the Torah then describes in two full chapters (Numbers 17-18) the aftermath.
The rebellion of Korach did not occur in isolation. Like any other breach in society, it was the result of frustrations and desperation.
In this case, it was the realisation the journey in the desert would be long, arduous, and, for anyone over the age of 20, ultimately fatal.
The miracles that dealt with the immediate problem did not deal with the underlying cause.
Thus, the Torah goes into great detail about how to begin the fix the problem. The incense pans of the High Priest hopefuls are sanctified and used as coating for the altar: their misguided passion finds its way into the Sanctuary.
Aaron has to justify his position through growth and positivity; his staff miraculously blossoms.
The Priests are given extra mitzvot, but are to bear the responsibility of the transgressions of the people.
While the miraculous death of Korach may shock us, shock does not change individuals or society.
Change is gradual, painful and circuitous. Korach is as much about the painful, yet necessary process of change, as it is the miraculous vindication of Moses.
Rabbi Wayland is an educator with United Synagogue Living & Learning
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