This past week’s parshah, that of Korach, Numbers 16, presented me with a problem. I wished to say a dvar Torah at the table of Dr. Sophie Simons here at Shiloh, but was stumped.
The parsha starts off so:
1 Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men; 2 and they rose up in face of Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty men; they were princes of the congregation, the elect men of the assembly, men of renown; 3 and they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them: ‘Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them; wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?’ 4 And when Moses heard it, he fell upon his face.
Moshe Rabeinu is faced with a potentially catastrophic situation: revolt against his leadership. This is a devastating development of yet another of the ‘murmurings’ that the Bnei Yisrael were wont to express in the desert.
What would be the first thing he does?
I would presume he would discuss or argue with them and try to avert the crisis. Seek a peaceful resolution. Compromise. Negotiate. Convince them they are wrong.
But what follows?
5 And he spoke unto Korah and unto all his company, saying: ‘In the morning the LORD will show who are His, and who is holy, and will cause him to come near unto Him; even him whom He may choose will He cause to come near unto Him. 6 This do: take you censors, Korah, and all his company; 7 and put fire therein, and put incense upon them before the LORD to-morrow; and it shall be that the man whom the LORD doth choose, he shall be holy; ye take too much upon you, ye sons of Levi.’
He seems to invite them to a knock-down, High Noon event. ‘Just you wait until the morrow’, is his response. Is that the way to go?
And then we read:
8 And Moses said unto Korah: ‘Hear now, ye sons of Levi: 9 is it but a small thing unto you, that the God of Israel hath separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to Himself, to do the service of the tabernacle of the LORD, and to stand before the congregation to minister unto them; 10 and that He hath brought thee near, and all thy brethren the sons of Levi with thee? and will ye seek the priesthood also? 11 Therefore thou and all thy company that are gathered together against the LORD–; and as to Aaron, what is he that ye murmur against him?’
After fixing a time and place for the showdown, Moshe reverts to persuasion. Is that the logical order?
Next, he attempts a “divide-and-conquer” maneuver which is more in line with the attempt to avert the crisis:
12 And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab; and they said: ‘We will not come up; 13 is it a small thing that thou hast brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, but thou must needs make thyself also a prince over us? 14 Moreover thou hast not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor given us inheritance of fields and vineyards; wilt thou put out the eyes of these men? we will not come up.’
At this, Moshe becomes quite angry and repeats the invitation to a show down, here, in its proper place:
15 And Moses was very wroth, and said unto the LORD: ‘Respect not Thou their offering; I have not taken one ass from them, neither have I hurt one of them.’ 16 And Moses said unto Korah: ‘Be thou and all thy congregation before the LORD, thou, and they, and Aaron, to-morrow;
Why do I sense a mis-constructed chronology? It seems obvious. Something is out of order. Why?
The commentators that I found in Rav Kasher’s Torah Shleima seem to imply that Moshe was of the opinion that what was amiss was not a matter of logic or rationality. Rashi writes the oppositionists were ‘drunk’ as they had been at a party Korach had thrown (parties can be a bad as Achashveros found out). Another, Yilmadeinu, suggests the term “morning” was a metaphor for clarity and things that are all worked out and the phrase was ‘don’t you realize it is all as clear and the morning/’.
The Tanchuma has it that Moshe hoped that they would do teshuva by the morning and that there would be no need for verbal sparring, always a generator of further arguments, especially among Jews. Another midrash informs us that Moshe himself had eaten and imbibed and he didn’t want to go before God until the morning.
The Bamidbar Rabbah has it that Moshe was saying that just like you cannot alter the order of a separation that exists between day and night and between light and darkness, so, too, the difference between the Kohanim descending from Aharon and the Levites from the other families cannot be changed. Each has its place and job and position.
All this is fine except for my quite subjective feeling that Moshe should have been engaging Korach and followers before intimating, right up front, that in the end, there’d be a confrontation with God, not himself.
Of course, this may not have been the first time, and it wasn’t, that these fellows were being troublemakers and perhaps Moshe was fed up with their shenanigans.
That, too, can be a lesson.