Torah Study Notes 6-21-14

June 21, 2014


Korach – . 1002 The people are in the wilderness with no particular goal or destination. In the last Book of Numbers there is description of the random wanderings. LL: One would think there would be a focus on the location of wells. Also, the wilderness is an incubator of sorts wherein the people grow in number and become hardier. The Haftarah for Korach is First Samuel, Ch. 11, verse 14 to chapter 12, verse 22. There is a significant difference in that here Moses appeals to God whereas Samuel appeals to the people.

16:1 “You have gone too far!” The people remonstrate with Moses and Aaron. What gives them the authority to be the leaders? “…for all the community are holy…” “Why do you raise yourselves above the Eternal’s congregation?”

16:4 Why does Koresh want leadership? Note the problematic translation of the phrase “he took.” Here Moses appears to humble himself (but “falls upon his face” is a colloquialism and we are not sure of its exact meaning.) and sets a test for selection by the Eternal. Bringing fire pans is part of the ordination ceremony that has been described previously in the ordination of Aaron and his ill-fated sons.

16:8 “…do you seek the priesthood too?” From a literary point of view it may be that several Koresh stories have been drawn together to produce this text – possibly from a variety of sources. Note that Koresh is a descendant of Reuben – the eldest of the twelve brother sons of Jacob. His challenge may be an aspect of primogeniture. This is clearly a question of “apostolic authority” – who has God chosen. But it is also a question of waning effectiveness as a leader.

16:12  “ Pay no regard to their oblation. I have not taken the ass of any one of them…” Moses appears to be concerned as to why this particular challenge by a second group has occurred. This is not a priestly Levitical challenge. CL There are usually two conditions for uprisings – that people feel that they are oppressed but also have the ability to express their will. Here, the rebels are confident enough to express their displeasure.

16:16 Everyone lays their fire pans before the tent of meeting. For the purposes of making the story work everyone, from both rebelling groups, is made a Cohan. Note that to be chosen by God is transformative. What is central in Christian thought is God’s grace – the transformation occurs when you are  baptized or born again. But what is the discernible difference between being chosen and thinking that you are chosen – self righteousness? In Judaism you are deemed chosen because you have inherent qualities of leadership.

16:16 continued – the Eternal appears to the whole community and threatens to annihilate them. Previously the appearance has been in the form of a pillar of fire. But God again seems to be speaking only to Moses and Aaron. They need to convince themselves as to what they wish to happen. Compare the decision in Iraq to eliminate the entire Baathist leadership after the fall of Saddam.

16:25 Moses tells the people to leave the tents of Dathan and Abiram who have challenged his leadership. This is an ongoing political drama. Here the people in general are given an opportunity to support Moses.

16:27 Dathan and Abiram and all of their people are swallowed up by the ground. Then a fire went forth from the Eternal and consumed the 250 men offering the incense. Again, this appears to be a blending of two story traditions. This is confusing because there is no reference here to Koresh and his supporters. Compare to the ending of Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark. The evildoers are punished. Or is this a question of “burn out” among those whose passions rose to a self-destructive level? What does religious passion lead to? Burning up? Excessive behavior? Here the destruction is metaphoric as a lesson to succeeding generations. No one is killed except in a literary sense. We are instructed by entertaining hyperbole. Also, this sequence suggest punishment for more than rebellion against Moses and Aaron. It is punishment for apostasy – a rebellion against God.

17:1  The burned fire pans become a warning for those who might challenge apostolic authority in the future. In many respects Torah is Greek tragedy or vice versa. Almost everyone dies but there is always someone left to carry on – and presumably to tell the tale. A mode preserved by Shakespeare.     

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