Sedra of the Week: Korach

Sedra of the Week: Korach

Rabbi Ariel Abel explains this week's portion with a modern twist

Ariel Abel is rabbi of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation

Recent infighting and discord in both the Tory and Labour Party has been reminiscent of the uprising by Korach against the leadership of his cousins, Moses and Aaron.

The UK has witnessed less than honest behaviour among politicians campaigning and vying for political position.

The Cuckoo’s Nest phenomenon in which Tory politicians oust each other from the race to party leadership following the Brexit vote is reminiscent of how Korach won over, then side-lined those Reubenites who were angling for Moses’ downfall.

This week’s reading underlines the principle that primacy in politics does not emerge from snipers and jackals, but from those with moral fibre and a genuineness of purpose and mission.

Thus, neither Korach nor the Reubenite troublemakers Dathan and Aviram escaped Divine wrath.

They all went down the same way, swallowed into the oblivion, remembered for posterity only for their destructiveness.

Only Moses remained to eventually lead the Israelites into the Canaanite conquest on the East Bank of the Jordan, in the last two years of his life.

The detail of the face-off between Moses and Aaron on one hand, and Korach on the other goes to the core of the feud between principled and selfish leaders.

Moses asked that Korach and his 250 acolytes desist from splitting the nation and present themselves with pans bearing a fire offering.

This they did. But their display of fervour, far from confirming their spiritual supremacy, prompted a miraculous earthquake right beneath their feet. All 250 men descended into the earth.

An ancient tradition teaches that the mouth of earth that swallowed Korach and his rebels was the first of 10 extraordinary phenomena created at the exact time the sun began to set, at the onset of the first Shabbat after creation.

Miracles of the obvious kind, according to Maimonides, are not preferred by the Almighty. It is better to understand God through nature, rather than have to rely on an interventionist miracle.

The plague that hits the encampment of Israel is only brought to an end by Aaron, the man who actively seeks peace and an end to hostilities.

To demonstrate Aaron’s leadership as head of the Priestly tribe, his almond stick is the only one to bear fruit among other sticks representative of the other tribes.

Finally, the children of Israel are instructed to make a tribute of crops, wine and oil, firstborn sheep and cattle to the Levites.

After all the tribe of Moses and Aaron has done for the people, they must show their gratitude and support them in their tireless and time-consuming work for national unity, social cohesion, legal and moral education, pastoral support, spiritual leadership and guidance.

• Ariel Abel is rabbi of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation

read more: