Approach this section with supreme caution for it will come upon you unaware, even though it begins in utmost sincerity:
1 Korach son of Itzhar son of Kehath son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliav, and On, son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, assembled. 2 They got up in front of Moses and the men from the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty of the well-known tribal leaders.Numbers 16
Was it so hard to predict this rebellion? Korach and his gang were known to everyone by now. They had made their way in the crowd of people who traveled in the desert for 2 years. Surely someone heard them complain aloud or heard a rumor they had circulated that would lead to this moment. Maybe naïveté and over optimism clouded everyone’s senses and made it impossible to judge that they would stand up to Moses. Then the question which leads us to the Rebellion of Korach:
3 They assembled against Moses and Aaron saying to them: you are too powerful because all of the community is totally worthy and YHWH is with them, so why should you be superior to YHWH’s congregation?Numbers 16
Should we turn away, skip this chapter and move on to a brighter time? Is even possible to answer this question why?
12 Moses sent for Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliav, to come, but they said: we will not come up. 13 Is it a trifle that you brought us out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the desert, and also to lord it over us? … 19 Korach assembled them, the entire community, before the opening of the Mishkan; the whole community perceived the presence of YHWH.Numbers 16
How does it feel to survive an aborted coup? Does the blood freeze in the veins and arteries as pressure builds up inside and out – no safety valve to help it escape and no meter to show us when it is safe to unblock our ears so we can hear laughter and song instead of the roar of conflicting seismic titans.
Face this incident and answer the post-rebellion question: Who was the one you would have supported? Moses, stuttering and stumbling? Korach, glib and self-assured?
31 As Moses finished speaking those words, the ground split beneath them. 32 The earth split and the opening swallowed them and everything they had and their families and everyone with Korach and all his belongings. 33 They descended and everything they had living down to the abyss; the earth covered them so they were lost among the congregation.Numbers 16
The violence that exploded and sent those people crashing down into the abyss reverberates beyond those witnesses who were standing at the edge. We will never get over this incident. It will forever catch us and churn at the essence of our people.
15 Break the arm of the evil doer, until you search for evil that will not be found.Psalm 10
NOTE to intrepid reader: If you weren’t frightened or intimidated then you should be proud, but not happy. You have been able to read these words and rest calmly afterwards. But take the warning into account before setting out on your own crusade.
Midrash Harabah and English translations by Rabbi Gail Shuster-Bouskila ©2021
Two audio and visual samples to end this section: