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What Made Korach’s Sin so Severe?


Numbers 16:1-18:32 from 18 June till 24 June 2023 (Outside of Israel)

וְאִם־בְּרִיאָ֞ה יִבְרָ֣א ה ‘וּפָצְתָ֨ה הָאֲדָמָ֤ה אֶת־פִּ֙יהָ֙ וּבָלְעָ֤ה אֹתָם֙ וְאֶת־כׇּל־אֲשֶׁ֣ר לָהֶ֔ם וְיָרְד֥וּ חַיִּ֖ים שְׁאֹ֑לָה וִֽידַעְתֶּ֕ם כִּ֧י נִֽאֲצ֛וּ הָאֲנָשִׁ֥ים הָאֵ֖לֶּה אֶת־ ה ‘׃

But if God creates a new creation, namely, that the earth opens its mouth, swallows them and all that is theirs, and they descend alive into the grave, you will know that these men have provoked God, and that I have spoken only on His authority. If God created the earth with the potential to open its mouth, let this potential be manifest now. If He did not, let Him create it anew!

That Korach’s sin (and that of Dathan and Aviram) was enormous is evidenced in part by the fact that G-d creates something new to punish him and all that belong to him. Even the children under the age of 13. Who normally would not be punished because they are not yet punishable themselves for their sins. Indeed, this punishment happened by the hand of Heaven, and [1]only falls on people 20 years and older. The sin was so great that Moses warned the people not to even go near Korach’s tent. Anything even near his tent rolled into the earth.[2]

Who was Korach?

Korah was a great-grandson of Levi, the third of Jacob’s twelve sons, and a first cousin to Moses and Aaron, the Jewish leader and High Priest, respectively.

Korah was very wealthy,[3] and was a very clever and astute person.[4] His status as a member of the Levite tribe enabled him to participate in the service in the Mishkan.

Despite his high position, he was not satisfied and wanted more than was his due. Therefore, he rebelled against Moses.

He accused Moses of having appointed himself leader – “You take too much upon yourselves, for all the community is holy, and God is in their midst. Why do you raise yourselves above the community of God? (Numbers 15:3) – and as if that wasn’t bad enough, he had also favored his brother Aaron in giving him the position of High Priest.[5] A position that did not belong to him, in Korah’s eyes, after the whole history with the golden calf.[6]

What did Korach want – Why was that so Severe?

Korach wanted even more wealth, even more power than he already had. It was a prideful power struggle against the foundation of the humble leader, Moses.

More than that it was a battle against G-d Himself. After all, it was not Moses who had proclaimed himself leader of the people, but G-d had appointed him leader (Exodus 3,1-6) and this leadership G-d had confirmed at Sinai by saying that the people would believe not only in Him but also in Moses (Exodus 19:9). Not having confidence, having faith, in Moses is equivalent to not having faith in G-d, because Moses is not only G‑d’s servant; he is G‑d’s emissary in all matters, and the Shechinah speaks from his throat. Korach provoked not only Moses, but G-d Himself (Numbers 16:28-30). Korach is undermining the foundation of the Torah’s message. The message, both Written and Oral, that G-d gives through Moses by using. By supposedly speaking words of holiness. When Korach gets the people behind him to appoint him instead of Moses, the transmission of the Torah is in immediate, direct danger. Instead of holiness, people would start following empty words.

What can we learn from the story of Korach

This is an important lesson for today. Examine your leaders, examine who you want to follow. There are many so-called leaders, leaders who seem to speak Torah, but their words are empty, their words are not meant to raise the world or people to spirituality, but words to raise their own fame and status.

A second important lesson is that true sincere leaders, who pass on Torah to people, speak the words of G-d. Speaking evil of them is equivalent to speaking evil of G-d. Be careful about that.

Korach’s punishment was dreadful, especially for his children, innocent children. It shows the importance of raising children. When they receive a wrong upbringing, it has an awful lot of impact on the rest of their lives. In general, children with a religious upbringing will easily come to faith in Hashem than children raised atheistically, without any G-ds awareness.

Still, there is always hope. The sons of Korach entered the Sheol alive but are spared. At the last moment, the sons of Korach repented of their evil deeds. They figuratively clung to G-d and Moses. They clung to life, this resulted in the fact that they would return to the community at a later date.[7] Not only that they become composers of some wonderful Psalms.[8]

From this we learn that if we grab hold of the Living Words of the Torah, when there is still some G-ds awareness and sense of right and wrong, there is always the possibility of repentance, a person can always return to G-d.

By Angelique Sijbolts


[1] Shabbat 80B
[2] נתיבות שלום
[3] Pesachim 119a
[4] Bamidbar Rabbah 18:8
[5] Rashi on Numbers 15:3 You have taken too much greatness for yourselves. All heard the sounds at Sinai that emanated from heaven. If you took the kingship for yourself, you did not need to give your brothers the priesthood …”
[6] Rebellion
[7] Likutei Sichot, vol. 2 p. 329
[8] For example Tehilim 44.

With thanks to B. Yaniger for the inspiration

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