“Korach . . . the son of Yitzhar, the son of Kehat, the son of Levi (16:1)
What moved him to start a quarrel? He was moved to it by the fact that Elitzafan, the son of his father’s brother, was appointed prince over his family, as it says, ‘The prince of the father’s house of the families of the Kehatites was Elitzafan the son of Uzziel’ (Numbers 3:30). Korach argued: My father was one of four brothers, as it says, ‘The sons of Kehat: Amram, and Yitzhar, and Hebron, and Uzziel’ (Exodus 4:18). As for Amram the firstborn, his son Aaron attained to greatness, and Moses to royalty. Who then should rightly take the next office? Is it not the next in line? Now I, being the son of Yitzhar, should by right be the leader of the Kehatites. Yet Moses appointed the son of Uzziel! Shall the [son of the] youngest of my father’s brothers be superior to me? Behold, I shall dispute his decision and put to naught all that has been arranged by him . . .(Midrash Rabbah; Rashi)”
“In this week’s portion Korach challenges Moshe and Aharon: ‘You take too much on you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them…’ (Bemidbar 16:3). And he is right: the covenant at Sinai established Israel as ‘a nation of priests and a holy nation” (Shmot 19:6) and thus, in fact, “all the congregation are holy.’ But why then did Korach arouse the wrath of God?
Perhaps because holiness, which stands at the center of the Korach story, is like electricity, powerful and dangerous. Without holiness religion loses its color, its drama and allure. But with holiness, dangers abound. Korach made a crucial error in his understanding of holiness, transforming it from good to evil. Korach thus symbolizes a fatal flaw inherent in holiness; one that should haunt all who seek it.”
“In Parashat Korach, Moses’ cousin, Korach leads a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, demanding, “All the community are holy … Why then do you raise yourselves above the Eternal’s congregation?” (Numbers 16:3). Often, Korach’s actions are interpreted to be the jealous behavior of one who sees himself as entitled to power. But what if his behavior reflects something different — a feeling of helplessness and a fear of being disenfranchised?
Our haftarah this week (I Samuel 11:14-18:32) finds the prophet Samuel too facing feelings of helplessness. In his time, the people desired a king, but Samuel did not want to appoint a king over Israel. He feared people would think the king held the ultimate power over them, and they would lose their connection to God as the Ultimate Power. Samuel felt both powerless to say no to the people’s request, and powerless over their inevitable distancing from God if he were to say yes.”
“In his well-known 1936 commentary on the Torah, popularly referred to as the “Hertz Humash”, Dr. J. H. Hertz refers to this week’s Torah portion, ‘Korach’, as ‘The Great Mutiny’. Rabbi Gunther Plaut, writing in the Reform movement’s recent commentary on the Torah, calls these chapters ‘The Rebellion of Korach, Dathan, and Abiram’. Dr. Jacob Milgrom, in the new commentary on the Book of Numbers published by the Jewish Publication Society, refers to this portion as the ‘Encroachment on the Tabernacle’.
The source of these negative ascriptions is not difficult to find. The very beginning of the Torah portion establishes the nature of the latest rebellion against the leadership of Moses: ‘Now Korach…betook himself…along with Dathan and Abiram… to rise up against Moses, together with 250 Israelites, chieftains of the community, chosen in the assembly, men of repute. They combined against Aaron and Moses and said to them: ‘You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and the Lord is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s congregation?'” (Numbers 16:1-3) ”
“Those who expect a monolithic theological picture in the Tanakh are in for a surprise. The Jewish Bible is chock full of conflicting views of the divine reality. This is to be expected from a work which spans ages and voices, each trying to come to terms with God’s role in the world. This is one of the fascinating aspects of the Tanakh (the Bible), the canonized sacred text of the Jews. This diversity is reflected when we contrast the opening verse of this special haftarah for Shabbat Rosh Hodesh with other ideas found in the Tanakh.
The prophet reflects on the idea that no house could possibly contain God: ‘Thus said the Lord: ‘The heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool: Where could you build a house for Me? What place could serve as my abode?’ (66:1) This verse differs, however, from King Solomon’s dedication prayer for the Temple: ‘I (Solomon) have now built for You (God) a stately House, a place where You may dwell forever.’ (1 Kings 8:13) The idea that God was contained in ‘His’ house seems to have been a firmly entrenched idea in some circles, as is indicated by the following verse from Psalms: ‘Let us enter His (God’s) abode, bow at His footstool.’ (132:7) (See S. Paul, Isaiah 49-66, Mikra L’Yisrael, p. 556-7)”