Parashat Korah

Reflect Before You Respond

Moses' response to Korah's challenge teaches us to first reflect on our own actions in any situation of conflict or anger.

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The following article is reprinted with permission from Kolel: The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning.

Overview

In this parashah, the Israelite people come dangerously close to splitting apart. A man named Korah leads a group of followers to challenge Moshe and Aharon's leadership. Korah has powerful arguments, but in a dramatic test, God demonstrates again that Moshe and Aharon are God's choice to guide the people. The rebels are punished, and the role of all the priests and Levites, not just Aharon, is clarified. Finally, there are laws specifying that the "first born" of plants, animals, and human beings is to be dedicated to God; this is the source of the ritual of pidyon haben, or redemption of the first-born.

In Focus

"They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, "You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above God's assembly?"

When Moses heard this, he fell face down." (Numbers 16:3-4)

Pshat

Moshe does not get immediately defensive or angry with the assembled crowd, nor does he assert his authority. Instead, he humbles himself, and asks the rebels about their motivation. He also points out, a few verses later, that they should have no problem with Aharon; it's interesting that Moshe comes to Aharon's defense before defending himself.

Drash

Continuing our study of Moshe's reactions to leadership challenges, a famous Hassidic commentator offers a different kind of explanation of Moshe "falling facedown." R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi (lived in Russia, died in 1812), the founding rabbi of the Lubavitch (or Chabad) Hassidic movement, says that Moshe fell on his face because he really had to ask himself if Korah has a valid point:

It would have been fitting for Moshe to answer him immediately, so why did he first fall on his face? Moshe, our teacher, had a feeling that maybe they were asking him this from On High, and Korah was only a messenger. Thus, he first fell on his face for self-reflection, to see if in truth he had any arrogance. After he thoroughly checked himself, and found no trace of pride, he understood that he [Korah] was not a messenger from On High, but was a divider [of people], and so he answered as he did. (Tanya, quoted in Itturei Torah)

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Rabbi Neal J. Loevinger

Rabbi Neal Joseph Loevinger is currently the rabbi of Temple Beth-El in Poughkeepsie, NY. A former student at Kolel, he served as Kolel's Director of Outreach from late 1999-2001. He was ordained in the first graduating class of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies of the University of Judaism, and holds a Master's of Environmental Studies from York University in Toronto.