This week’s Torah portion is entitled, Korach, the name of the Levite leader who attempted an unsuccessful insurrection against Moses and Aaron.

Who was Korah? Chapter 16 identifies him as a descendant of Levi by Kohath, who was the brother of Amram, Moses’ father. So, Korah was actually Moses’ cousin.

The incident of his rebellion is referenced two other times in Scripture: once by Moses in Numbers 26, and once by Jude, who listed Korah’s actions along with Cain’s murder of Abel, and with Balaam’s greed.

Korah was judged severely, because it was Adonai who had appointed Moses. Thus Korah’s rejection of Moses’ authority was a rejection of the will of Adonai Himself, which was a serious offense.

Korah enticed Dathan, Abiram and On, along with 250 Israeli leaders, to join in his insurrection. He accused Moses of having gone too far with his authority; after all, he claimed, ALL the Lord’s people are holy. What right did Moses have to act as though he was greater than God’s people? Korah fueled discontentment within the community with his divisive words. Was he really concerned about equality, or did he just desire power and recognition for himself?

When Moses first heard Korah’s words, he fell face down on the ground, but when he composed himself, he declared that God would settle the matter and show who belongs to Him and who is holy, and could come near Him.

Moses put Korah and his followers to a test; telling them to come to the Tent of Meeting the next morning, to take censers, place fire in them and put incense on them before Adonai. This would be very different, since only Aaron and his family were authorized by God to burn incense before Him. Korah was from the house of Levi, but neither he nor his followers were of priestly families. Moses dared them to prove their assertion, saying: “The Lord will make His choice known to everyone. It is you who have gone too far.”

The chapter continues with the confrontation of Dathan and Abiram; whose rebellious conduct was as equally disgraceful as Korah’s. They refused even to appear before Moses, whom they accused of leading the Jewish people out of Egypt, only to have them die in the desolate wilderness. They also accused Moses of treating the people as though they were subjects.

This defiance filled Moses with anger; the time for talk was over. The next morning Korah and his followers came with their firepans, and all the assembly of Israel came to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting to witness this confrontation before the Lord. God was angry and ready to destroy His faithless people; but Moses and Aaron interceded, and warned the community to move away from Korah and company. They wisely listened and moved away. As Moses was speaking, the earth opened up and swallowed them, their families, and followers.

This should have ended the rebellion, but the next day the community accused Moses and Aaron of killing the people. This horrible claim proves that they were unwilling to obey God. Again, God was angry, and sent a plague, but Moses and Aaron bravely interceded for the community, and the plague ended. However, their rebellion resulted in the deaths of 14,700 more people.

In chapter 17 God commanded Moses to collect twelve staffs, one for each of Israel’s tribal leaders, and to write the names of the leader on them. Aaron’s name was written on the staff for the tribe of Levi. The staffs were to be placed in the Tabernacle, in front of the Ark of the Covenant. God informed Moses that buds would sprout on the staff of the man He’d chosen. This act of God would once and for all put an end to their accusations and complaining.

The next day Moses entered the Tabernacle and discovered that Aaron’s staff had formed, not only buds, but blossoms, and even ripe almonds!

Interestingly, the Hebrew word for almond shares the same three-letter Hebrew root as the verb for alertness and watching. The prophet Jeremiah even used the two similar words together to make this point. Adonai was revealing to Israel that He is always awake and watching.

Moses presented the twelve staffs to the community, and a leader from each tribe claimed his staff, which must have been a shameful and humbling experience for them. Then, the Lord told Moses to place Aaron’s staff permanently before the Ark of the Covenant, to serve as a warning to would-be rebels, and to put an end to their complaints, and prevent any further deaths. At this point the community became fearful and reverent.

In chapter 18 God gave instructions after the sin and judgement of the community. Aaron, his sons, and their descendants were given a great responsibility as priests. They would be held accountable for any iniquity involving the Sanctuary or the Priesthood. The priesthood was God’s gift to Aaron and his descendants, and any act of rebellion against God’s commands would earn the penalty of death.

What can we learn from this tragedy? First and foremost, we must love God with our whole being, reverence Him, and obey His instructions.

Second, we must remember that the human heart is deceitful, prone to wickedness, and that we lack understanding of it (Jer. 17:9). James wrote that where there is envy and selfish ambition, we will experience disorder, and every evil practice.

Third, we know that Satan uses people who are prideful, jealous, divisive, and falsely accuse others. As followers of Yeshua, it is vital that we ask God to fill us with His Spirit every day, and sincerely live lives that are submitted; and obey Him, rather than our selfish desires. We must humble ourselves, and always obey God, while endeavoring to love one another, serve one another, and pray passionately for one another.