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Korach or Korah (קרח — Hebrew for the name "Korah,” which in turn means “baldness, ice, hail, or frost,” the second word, and the first distinctive word, in the parshah) is the 38th weekly Torah portion (parshah) in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading and the fifth in the book of Numbers. It constitutes Jews in the Diaspora generally read it in June or early July.

Summary

Destruction of Korah Dathan and Abiram (illustration from the 1890 Holman Bible)

Korah’s rebellion

The Levite Korah son of Izhar joined with the Reubenites Dathan and Abiram sons of Eliab and On son of Peleth and 250 chieftain of the Israelite community to rise up against Moses. ( ) Moses told Korah and his band to take their fire pans and put fire and incense on them before God. ( ) Moses sent for Dathan and Abiram, but they refused to come. ( ) The next day, Korah and his band took their fire pans and gathered the whole community against Moses and Aaron at the entrance of the Tabernacle. ( ) The Presence of the Lord appeared to the whole community, and God told Moses and Aaron to stand back so that God could annihilate the others. ( ) Moses and Aaron fell on their faces and implored God not to punish the whole community. ( ) God told Moses to instruct the community to move away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, and they did so, while Dathan, Abiram, and their families stood at the entrance of their tents. ( ) Moses told the Israelites that if these men were to die of natural causes, then God did not send Moses, but if God caused the earth to swallow them up, then these men had spurned God. ( ) Just as Moses finished speaking, the earth opened and swallowed them, their households, and all Korah’s people, and the Israelites fled in terror. ( )

And a fire consumed the 250 men offering the incense. ( ) God told Moses to order Eleazar the priest to remove the fire pans — as they had become sacred — and have them made into plating for the altar to remind the Israelites that no one other than Aaron’s offspring should presume to offer incense to God. ( )

A plague upon rebels

The next day, the whole Israelite community railed against Moses and Aaron for bringing death upon God’s people. ( ) A cloud covered the Tabernacle and the God’s Presence appeared. ( ) God told Moses to remove himself and Aaron from the community, so that God might annihilate them, and they fell on their faces. ( ) Moses told Aaron to take the fire pan, put fire from the altar and incense on it, and take it to the community to make expiation for them and to stop a plague that had begun, and Aaron did so. ( ) Aaron stood between the dead and the living and halted the plague, but not before 14,700 had died. ( )
Aaron’s Rod Budding (illustration from the 1728 Figures de la Bible)
Aaron’s Rod that Budded (illustration from the 1890 Holman Bible)

Aaron’s budding staff

God told Moses to collect a staff from the chieftain of each of the 12 tribes, inscribe each man’s name on his staff, inscribe Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi, and deposit the staffs in the Tent of Meeting. ( ) The next day, Moses entered the Tent and Aaron’s staff had sprouted, blossomed, and borne almonds. ( ) God instructed Moses to put Aaron’s staff before the Ark of the Covenant to be kept as a lesson to rebels to end their mutterings against God. ( ) But the Israelites cried to Moses, “We are doomed to perish!” ( )

Duties of priests and Levites

God assigned the Levites to Aaron to aid in the duties of the Tent of Meeting. ( ) God prohibited any outsider from intruding on the priests as they discharged the duties connected with the Shrine, on pain of death. ( ) And God gave Aaron and the priests all the sacred donations and first fruits as a perquisite for all time for them and their families to eat. ( ) And God gave them the oil, wine, grain, and money that the Israelites brought. ( ) But God told Aaron that the priests would have no territorial share among the Israelites, as God was their portion and their share. ( ) God gave the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their share in return for the services of the Tent of Meeting, but they too would have no territorial share among the Israelites. ( ) God told Moses to instruct the Levites to set aside one-tenth of the tithes they received as a gift to God. ( )

In classical rabbinic interpretation

Numbers chapter 16

A midrash taught that Korah took issue with Moses in because Moses had (as reports) appointed Elizaphan the son of Uzziel as prince of the Kohathites, and Korah was (as reports) son of Uzziel's older brother Izhar, and thus had a claim to leadership prior to Elizaphan. (Midrash Tanhuma Korah 1.)

Resh Lakish interpreted the words “Korah . . . took” in to teach that Korah took a bad bargain for himself. As the three Hebrew consonants that spell Korah’s name also spell the Hebrew word for “bald” (kereach), the Gemara deduced that he was called Korah because he caused a bald spot to be formed among the Israelites when the earth swallowed his followers. As the name Izhar in derived from the same Hebrew root as the word “noon” (tzohorayim), the Gemara deduced from “son of Izhar” that Korah was a son who brought upon himself anger hot as the noon sun. As the name Kohath in derived from the same Hebrew root as the word for “set on edge” (hikah), the Gemara deduced from “son of Kohath” that Korah was a son who set his ancestors’ teeth on edge. The Gemara deduced from the words “son of Levi” in that Korah was a son who was escorted to Gehenna. The Gemara asked why did not say “the son of Jacob,” and Rabbi Samuel bar Isaac answered that Jacob had prayed not to be listed amongst Korah's ancestors in Genesis where it is written, “Let my soul not come into their council; unto their assembly let my glory not be united.” “Let my soul not come into their council” referred to the spies, and “unto their assembly let my glory not be united” referred to Korah’s assembly. As the name Dathan in derived from the same Hebrew root as the word “law” (dath), the Gemara deduced from Dathan’s name that he violated God’s law. The Gemara related the name Abiram in to the Hebrew word for “strengthened” (iber) and deduced from Abiram’s name that he stoutly refused to repent. The Gemara related the name On in to the Hebrew word for “mourning” (aninut) and deduced from On’s name that he sat in lamentations. The Gemara related the name Peleth in to the Hebrew word for “miracles” (pelaot) and deduced from Peleth’s name that God performed wonders for him. And as the name Reuben derived from the Hebrew words “see” (reu) and “understand” (mavin), the Gemara deduced from the reference to On as a “son of Reuben” in that On was a son who saw and understood. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 109b.)

 reports that the Reubenite On son of Peleth joined Korah’s conspiracy, but the text does not mention On again. Rab explained that On’s wife saved him, arguing to him that no matter whether Moses or Korah prevailed, On would remain just a disciple. On replied that he had sworn to participate. So On’s wife got him drunk with wine, and laid him down in their tent. Then she sat at the entrance of their tent and loosened her hair, so that whoever came to summon him saw her and retreated at the sight of her immodestly loosened hair. The Gemara taught that Proverbs   refers to On’s wife when it says: “Every wise woman builds her house.” ( Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 109b 10a.)


The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot deduced that the controversy of Korah and his followers was not for the sake of Heaven, and thus was destined not to result in permanent change. The Mishnah contrasted Korah’s argument to those between Hillel and Shammai, which the Mishnah taught were controversies for the sake of Heaven, destined to result in something permanent. (Mishnah Avot 5:17.)

Rabbi Levi taught that God told Moses “enough!” in Deuteronomy to repay Moses measure for measure for when Moses told Korah “enough!” in ( Babylonian Talmud Sotah 13b.)

Rav Adda bar Abahah taught that a person praying alone does not say the Sanctification (Kedushah) prayer (which includes the words from קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת; מְלֹא כָל-הָאָרֶץ, כְּבוֹדוֹ, Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh, Adonai Tz'vaot melo kol haaretz kevodo, “Holy, Holy, Holy, the Lord of Hosts, the entire world is filled with God’s Glory”), because Leviticus says: “I will be hallowed among the children of Israel,” and thus sanctification requires ten people (a minyan). Rabinai the brother of Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba taught that we derive this by drawing an analogy between the two occurrences of the word “among” (תּוֹךְ, toch) in (“I will be hallowed among the children of Israel”) and in in which God tells Moses and Aaron: “Separate yourselves from among this congregation,” referring to Korah and his followers. Just as which refers to a congregation, implies a number of at least ten, so implies at least ten. ( Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 21b.)

Budding of Aaron's Staff (woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld from the 1860 Bible in Pictures)
The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot taught that the opening of the earth’s mouth in was one of ten miracles that God created at the end of the first week of creation at the eve of the Sabbath at twilight. (Mishnah Avot 5:6.)

Rabbi Akiba interpreted to teach that Korah’s assembly will have no portion in the world to come, as the words “the earth closed upon them” reported that they died in this world, and the words “they perished from among the assembly” implied that they died in the next world, as well. But Rabbi Eliezer disagreed, reading 1 Samuel to speak of Korah’s assembly when it said: “The Lord kills, and makes alive; He brings down to the grave, and brings up.” The Gemara cited a Tannamarker who concurred with Rabbi Eliezer’s position: Rabbi Judah ben Bathyra likened Korah’s assembly to a lost article, which one seeks, as Psalm said: “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant.” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:3; Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 108a, 109b.)

Numbers chapter 17

A Baraita taught that Josiah hid the Ark, the bottle containing the manna (see Exodus ), Aaron’s staff with its almonds and blossoms (see ), and the chest that the Philistines sent as a gift (see ), because Josiah read in “The Lord will bring you, and your king whom you shall set over you, to a nation that you have not known.” Therefore he hid these things, as 2 Chronicles reports: “And he said to the Levites, that taught all Israel, that were holy to the Lord: ‘Put the holy ark into the house that Solomon, the son of David, King of Israel built. There shall no more be a burden upon your shoulders now.’” (Babylonian Talmud Yoma 52b.)

Numbers chapter 18

closeup of Torah scroll showing portions of regarding tithes
A non-Jew asked Shammai to convert him to Judaism on condition that Shammai appoint him High Priest. Shammai pushed him away with a builder’s ruler. The non-Jew then went to Hillel, who converted him. The convert then read Torah, and when he came to the injunction of and that “the common man who draws near shall be put to death,” he asked Hillel to whom the injunction applied. Hillel answered that it applied even to David, King of Israel, who had not been a priest. Thereupon the convert reasoned a fortiori that if the injunction applied to all (non-priestly) Israelites, whom in God had called “my firstborn,” how much more so would the injunction apply to a mere convert, who came among the Israelites with just his staff and bag. Then the convert returned to Shammai, quoted the injunction, and remarked on how absurd it had been for him to ask Shammai to appoint him High Priest. ( Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 31a.)

Tractate Terumot in the Mishnah, Tosefta, and Jerusalem Talmud interpreted the laws of the portion of the crop that was to be given to the priests in (Mishnah Terumot 1:1–11:10; Tosefta Terumot 1:1–10:18; Jerusalem Talmud Terumot 1a–.)

Tractate Bikkurim in the Mishnah, Tosefta, and Jerusalem Talmud interpreted the laws of the first fruits in and and (Mishnah Bikkurim 1:1–3:12; Tosefta Bikkurim 1:1–2:16; Jerusalem Talmud Bikkurim 1a–26b.)

Tractate Demai in the Mishnah, Tosefta, and Jerusalem Talmud, interpreted the laws related to produce where one is not sure if it has been properly tithed in accordance with (Mishnah Demai 1:1–7:8; Tosefta Demai 1:1–8:24; Jerusalem Talmud Demai 1a–.)

Commandments

According to Sefer ha-Chinuch, there are 5 positive and 4 negative commandments in the parshah.
  • To guard the Templemarker area ( )
  • No Levite must do another's work of either a Kohen or a Levite ( )
  • One who is not a Kohen must not serve in the sanctuary ( )
  • Not to leave the Temple unguarded ( )
  • To redeem the firstborn sons and give the money to a Kohen ( )
  • Not to redeem the firstborn of a kosher domestic animal ( )
  • The Levites must work in the Temple ( )
  • To set aside a tithe each planting year and give it to a Levite ( )
  • The Levite must set aside a tenth of his tithe ( )

Haftarah

The haftarah for the parshah is

When the parshah coincides with Shabbat Rosh Chodesh (as it does in 2010, 2013, and 2017), the haftarah is Isaiah

Further reading

The parshah has parallels or is discussed in these sources:

Biblical

  • (firstborn); (firstborn); (firstborn).
  • (firstborn); (Korach, Dathan, Abiram).
  • (firstborn).
  • (not having taken a donkey).
  • Jeremiah (firstborn).
  • Ezekiel (rod blossomed); (elders burning incense).
  • (God as inheritance); (go down alive into the nether-world); (Moses as God’s chosen); 29–30 (rebellion and earth swallowing; plague as God’s punishment).
Josephus

Early nonrabbinic

Classical rabbinic

  • Mishnah: Demai 1:1–7:8; Terumot 1:1–11:10; Challah 1:3; 4:9; Bikkurim 1:1–3:12; Chagigah 1:4; Sanhedrin 9:6; 10:3; Avot 5:6, 17; Bekhorot 8:8. Land of Israel, circa 200 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., The Mishnah: A New Translation. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 93–120, 148, 157, 329, 604–05, 686, 688, 806. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. ISBN 0-300-05022-4.
  • Tosefta: Demai 1:1–8:24; Terumot 1:1–10:18; Maaser Sheni 3:11; Challah 2:7, 9; Shabbat 15:7; Chagigah 3:19; Sotah 7:4; Sanhedrin 13:9; Bekhorot 1:5. Land of Israel, circa 300 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., The Tosefta: Translated from the Hebrew, with a New Introduction. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 1:77–202, 313, 339, 414, 677, 861; 2:1190, 1469. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Pub., 2002. ISBN 1-56563-642-2.
  • Jerusalem Talmud: Demai 1a–; Terumot 1a–; Maaser Sheni 4a, 5a, 53b–54a; Challah 9b, 23b, 29a, 33a; Orlah 18a, 20a; Bikkurim 1a–26b. Land of Israel, circa 400 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., Talmud Yerushalmi. Edited by Chaim Malinowitz, Yisroel Simcha Schorr, and Mordechai Marcus, vols. 10–12. Brooklyn: Mesorah Pubs., 2006–2009.
Talmud


Medieval

Rashi
  • Avot of Rabbi Natan, 36:3. Circa 700–900 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan. Translated by Judah Goldin, 149. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1955. ISBN 0-300-00497-4. The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan: An Analytical Translation and Explanation. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 217. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986. ISBN 1-55540-073-6.
  • Tanna Devei Eliyahu. Seder Eliyyahu Rabbah 67, 77, 83, 106, 117. 10th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Tanna Debe Eliyyahu: The Lore of the School of Elijah. Translated by William G. Braude and Israel J. Kapstein, 150, 172, 183, 233, 256. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1981. ISBN 0-8276-0634-6.
  • Rashi. Commentary. Numbers 16–18. Troyesmarker, France, late 11th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Rashi. The Torah: With Rashi’s Commentary Translated, Annotated, and Elucidated. Translated and annotated by Yisrael Isser Zvi Herczeg, 4:189–224. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1997. ISBN 0-89906-029-3.
  • Numbers Rabbah 18:1–23. 12th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Midrash Rabbah: Numbers. Translated by Judah J. Slotki. London: Soncino Press, 1939. ISBN 0-900689-38-2.
  • Maimonides. Mishneh Torah, Structure. Cairomarker, Egypt, 1170–1180.
Hobbes
  • Zohar 3:176a–178b. Spain, late 13th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., The Zohar. Translated by Harry Sperling and Maurice Simon. 5 vols. London: Soncino Press, 1934.


Modern

  • Thomas Hobbes. Leviathan, 3:38, 40, 42. England, 1651. Reprint edited by C. B. Macpherson, 485–86, 505, 563–64. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Classics, 1982. ISBN 0140431950.
  • Samson Raphael Hirsch. Horeb: A Philosophy of Jewish Laws and Observances. Translated by Isidore Grunfeld, 189–95, 261–65. London: Soncino Press, 1962. Reprinted 2002 ISBN 0-900689-40-4. Originally published as Horeb, Versuche über Jissroel’s Pflichten in der Zerstreuung. Germany, 1837.
  • Thomas Mann. Joseph and His Brothers. Translated by John E. Woods, 55. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. ISBN 1-4000-4001-9. Originally published as Joseph und seine Brüder. Stockholm: Bermann-Fischer Verlag, 1943.


  • A. M. Klein. “Candle Lights.” Canada, 1944. Reprinted in The Collected Poems of A.M. Klein, 13. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1974. ISBN 0-07-077625-3.
  • Jacob Milgrom. “First fruits, OT.” In The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Supp. vol., 336–37. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1976. ISBN 0-687-19269-2.
  • Jacob Milgrom. The JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation, 129–57, 414–36. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1990. ISBN 0-8276-0329-0.
  • Baruch A. Levine. Numbers 1–20, 4:403–53. New York: Anchor Bible, 1993. ISBN 0-385-15651-0.
  • Gerald Skolnik. “Should There Be a Special Ceremony in Recognition of a First-Born Female Child?” New York: Rabbinical Assembly, 1993. YD 305:1.1993. Reprinted in Responsa: 1991–2000: The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative Movement. Edited by Kassel Abelson and David J. Fine, 163–65 New York: Rabbinical Assembly, 2002. ISBN 0-916219-19-4.
Wiesel
  • Mary Douglas. In the Wilderness: The Doctrine of Defilement in the Book of Numbers, 40, 59, 84, 103, 110–12, 122–23, 125, 130–33, 138, 140, 145, 147, 150, 194–95, 203, 211, 246. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993. Reprinted 2004. ISBN 0-19-924541-X.
  • Elie Wiesel. “Korah.” Bible Review 16 (3) (June 2000): 12–15.


External links




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