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The End of Strife Parshat Korach, 5783Book of Numbers, 16-18

06/21/2023 11:37:57 AM


Rabbi Moshe Rudin


This week’s Parsha, Korach, describes a terrible schism in the Jewish people.  The once righteous but ultimately mistaken and sinful Korach, who has been passed over for priestly leadership in favor of his cousin, Aaron, gathers a large group and attacks Moses and Aaron.  He and his co-conspirators, Dothan and Aviram, mean to seize power.

You have gone too far!  All of the congregation is holy and Adonai is within them. Why have you lifted yourselves over the congregation?... Is it not enough that  you have led us out of the Land of Milk and Honey and brought us to die in this desert but you will also lord it over us?

This claim that Moses and Aaron have usurped leadership ushers in strife and destruction.  The flame of G-d’s wrath erupts from the Holy of Holies and burns down those who claim supremacy for themselves.  The earth swallows up another faction who try to engineer a coup to return us to Egypt.  A dreadful plague spreads like lightning to strike down hundreds gathered against Moses and Aaron from the Tabernacle.  Moses tells his brother to take his incense pan and to stand between the living and the dead.  The plague is stopped as Aaron stands against the Angel of Death, holding up his holy implement to defend those who would see him stoned and disgraced.

Freeze.  The nation mourns.  Mourns their fate: having rejected the Promised Land, frightened into paralysis by the report of the Spies that Israel was occupied by invincible titans, they are to wander the desert forever.  Only their children, born in faith and freedom, will enter the land.  

Enough.  G-d tells Moses that it is time to resolve the crisis.  

 The twelve tribal elders are told to plant their wooden staves of office in the holy enclosure of the Tabernacle.  Night falls.  In the morning, a sign appears.  No more flames or sinkholes or plagues.  Only this: of all the staves sunk into the ground before the Holy of Holies, one staff has flowered and even borne fruit- an almond, the symbol of speedy salvation.  It is the staff of Aaron.  

A flower and an almond.  A symbol of life and growth and putting down roots.  And indeed, the rebellions do end for that generation.  

Somehow the message has been received: Yes, the nation is holy.  Yes, G-d’s presence is within them all.  But leadership and dominion cannot be claimed by any mortal, only bestowed by G-d.  

G-d does no more.  It is up to the people to decide if that simple sign of redemption: flowers and fruit, the wanderer’s staff that will one day turn into a tree of homecoming, is enough.  One generation’s destination is the starting point of the next generation’s journey.  When the Israelites realize that their journey forms a link to the next journey, that continuity is its own kind of destination, then they find a measure of peace: not yet for everyone to sit beneath their own vine and fig tree, but to create a community of journeyers to move that vision one stage forward.  Same as every Jewish generation since.  Same as us.


Sat, May 25 2024 17 Iyyar 5784