The Korach Rebellion, the Demise, and Ma’seir Rishon? by Yitzi Rothchild


While Judaism is a religion which provides endless opportunities, it is also a religion which limits various aspects within the religion to particular people. Some commandments are universal, others are defined based on our gender, tribe, and marital status, and others are parsed to those with certain skills and character traits.

The main character in the Parashah, Korach, begins a rebellion with Datan and Aviram from Sheivet Reuvein. Rashi (BeMidbar 16:1 s.v. VeDatan VeAviram) points out that Korach is from the family of Kehat, who encamp adjacent to Sheivet Reuvein. He explains how Korach is able to influence them to join the reblellion based on the principle of, “Oy LaRasha VeOy LiShecheino,” “Woe to a wicked person, and woe to his neighbor.” In addition to this, Datan and Aviram are already notorious figures in the Torah for their combative and rebellious nature towards Moshe: they are the ones who spread the word that Moshe had killed a Mitzri (Shemot 2:13 Rashi s.v. Shenei Anashim Ivrim).

Korach’s influence on Datan, Aviram and 250 other people, though, sprung from a personal conflict. Korach expected a prominent role as a Nasi, responsible for the Avodah of Mishpachat Kehat in the Miskhan. However, Korach was overlooked and Elitzafan ben Uzziel was appointed as the Nasi. In response, Korach complains about the entire system of leadership. He reasoned that if Bnei Yisrael could stand before Har Sinai as one undivided nation, who was Moshe to instill a system of hierarchy? The Pesukim inform us that Moshe himself did not know how to handle this heated debate as the Torah states, “VaYipol Al Panav,” “And he fell on his face” (BeMidbar 16:4). Moshe instead decided to leave the decision in the hands of Hashem which eventually led to the demise of Korach and his followers. It is as if Moshe, in a sense, decided to take an opposite approach to leadership. While Korach was power hungry, believing he deserved more authority than was given to him, Moshe understood that in order to be a successful leader, there are times when leadership had to be relinquished and handed to other authorities.

What strangely follows the story of Korach’s rebellion is the commandments of Ma’aser Rishon, Ma’aser Beheimah and Pidyon HaBein, all of which are intended to support the Kohanim and Levi’im. It is very reasonable why these laws are juxtaposed to Korach’s rebellion. These laws continue to substantiate the “defined” commandments and roles that are given out to members of Bnei Yisrael. They further prove that not everyone has different roles, but equal opportunity to connect to Hashem. While people, like Korach, may be distraught by the fact that the Kohanim and Levi’im are receiving gifts from the Yisraelim, the Torah is teaching us that this is the exact mistake that Korach made. We must understand that every Sheivet has defined roles and systems enabling them to properly serve Hashem.

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