Korach (Korah)

Numbers 16:1 to 18:32

Korah and others challenge Moses and Aaron’s position (in effect God’s position) in the community. As a result God causes the earth to open and swallow them. Did “miracles” like this actually happen and how should they be understood?

“Now Korah, son of Ihar, son of Kobath son of Levi, betook himself, along with Dathan and Abiram, son of Eliab, and On son of Peleth – descendents of Rueben – to rise up against Moses together with two hundred and fifty; Israelites, chieftains of the community, chosen in the assembly, men of repute. They combined against Moses and Aaron and said to them,’ You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and the Eternal is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the Eternal’s congregation?’”

“When Moses heard this, he fell on his face….:” Moses then challenged Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and all their followers. “You Korach and all your band, take fire pans, and tomorrow put fire in them and lay incense on them before the Eternal Then the man whom the Eternal chooses, he shall be the holy one. You have gone too far, Sons of Levi!” (Num. 16:1-7)

Korah, Dathan, Abiram challenge Moses

Korah, Dathan, and Abiram are swallowed into the earth

The next day Moses addresses the people “ ‘… If the Eternal brings about something unheard of, so that the ground opens its mouth and swallow them (Korah, Dathan, and Abiram) up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into sheol, you shall know that those men have spurned the Eternal.’ Scarcely had he finished speaking all these words when the ground under them burst asunder, and the earth open its mouth and swallowed them up … All Israel around them fled at their shrieks, for they said, ‘The earth might swallow us!”

And a fire went forth from the Eternal and consumed the two hundred and fifty men offering the incense.” (Num. 16:30-35)

And the ground opened!…. And the fire consumed those offering impure incense…. Just at the right time… This is a MIRACLE… just one of many miracles created by the Eternal to aid the Israelites.

I realize that the discussion of “miracles” may seem a little off-topic. But, whenever I read about a Biblical “miracle”, I stop and wonder… Did it really happen?… Am I really supposed to believe this? … So I decided, this would be a good time to pause and look at “miracles.”

During our reading of the Torah over the past months, we have encountered people living hundreds of years, a flood covering the entire world, the Ten Plagues, the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, the drowning of the Egyptian soldiers, the appearance of water when needed, manna, the incidents at Mt. Sinai… and now the opening of the earth. …. We read them, we accept them as truth, and continue reading…. OR DO WE JUST ACCEPT THEM?

Did the events actually happen? Or are they myths and legends that reinforce the beliefs that the Torah teaches? …. Can God change the laws of nature as indicated by the text? … Some commentators have suggested that God can’t actually change nature; but, these miracles were pre-planned to happen at the start of creation. (This is almost as hard to believe as that actual miracles themselves.)

As I have indicated in the past I see God as a force of creation – the creator of the universe and world in which we live – the creator of all life, be it animal or vegetable.. or even mineral. I see this God as responsible for any afterlife (if there is such a thing.)
But mankind acts as a partner with God and is responsible for all actions between birth/creation and death.

I believe that it is mankind’s task to improve the world (Tikkun Olam – repairing the world) according to the concepts presented in Torah. Now does that not mean that the words of Torah are the words of God (that would be another miracle) or divinely inspired … whatever that means? I don’t feel that I can possibly answer that question… (That’s way above my pay grade!) But whatever the source of the ideas in Torah, I believe they provide a proper direction for me (…for the most part. There are many concepts which I am sure we all question….. Such as stoning a person who works on Shabbat…. Or stoning a son who is rebellious against his parents.)

But this line of thought creates a religious problem. If Torah wasn’t written or conceived by the Eternal … and if we question and reject some parts… what’s to stop a person from believing that because some parts are flawed… the total book and all its ideas can’t not be believed and are of no substantial use?

This is where belief and faith enter the thought process.

Even if I don’t believe all the stories … or if I reject some of the laws. I believe the main concepts. I see the stories – and the “miracles” as making the stories and the lessons they teach more understandable… and more interesting.

For the reasons stated above, I look at the “earth swallowing Korah” as a story about faith… faith in God and the laws presented. The story also opens a discussion about who is “holy” and what is meant be being “holy.” Through this discussion or questioning of what happens in this episode we can gain a greater understanding of what the Torah is teaching us.

So in answer to my question…. Did the “miracles” actually happen? To me, probably not… but, it really doesn’t matter. The ideas presented, the questions they raise, and the discussions that follow are invaluable. And these ventures into the “miracles” of Torah help me to build a stronger faith in the beliefs I have.

Earl Sabes

(Picture of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram courtesy of FreeBibleIllustrations.com)

Sign Up for Our Newsletter

World Of Judaica
Learn Hebrew online with Israel's best teachers