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The earth opened its mouth and swallowed (Korach and his followers)… they and all that they had were buried alive. The soil covered them, and they perished… (16:32-33)
This is the only time the Torah records this kind of death by Divine intervention. What is the connection between Korach's and his company of rebels against Moses' leadership, and their sudden untimely death of 'the earth swallowing them up'?
An incident recorded much earlier in the Torah may help to explain the connection. It concerns Adam, and his eating from the forbidden fruit. Adam's situation was very much like Korach's, as explained below.
Adam's duties were spelt out. 'G-d… led him with the Garden of Eden, to work in it and to take care of it' (Gen. 2:15).
Korach duties are also spelt out. Like the rest of the Levites, he was 'distinguished by G-d from the rest of the Israelites… to serve in the Tabernacle of G-d, and to stand before the congregation in their service' (16:9) - understood by Rashi to refer to the choral singing in the Tabernacle services.
But Adam wanted more - to serve his own interests by making himself over-important. So did Korach.
Adam followed Eve, who in turn had been persuaded by the snake to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. The argument which Eve accepted from the snake was not that 'eating from the Tree of Knowledge will help you to look after the Garden of Eden better', but 'that you will be as G-d, who knows good and evil' (Gen. 3:5). In other words, it was a means of selfishly raising his status. He was not only punished through expulsion from the Garden of Eden, but also reminded that he would not be immortal: He was created by G-d 'from the dust of the earth' (Gen. 2:7). He would now go back to the soil where he came from: 'for you are dust, and as dust you will return' (Gen. 3:19).
The essence of Korach's claim was similar. Like Adam, his duties and privileges did not suffice. He wanted more - an entry into Moses' inner circle. He did not say a word about how might use his higher status to improve service to G-d and the Israelites. His motives were selfish - Rashi brings the tradition that he was incensed at being passed over for the leadership of the sub-tribe of Kehat in favor of Elitzafan b. Uziel.
Both Adam and Korach could have legitimately made themselves more important - had they acted for the good of others and their surroundings. Then their aims and ambitions would not have been earthly - but eternal: for the good that they might have done would have had successive influence on future generations. As Abraham. As Moses. In service of G-d, and of man. Promotion would have been a bi-product - something required to enable them to serve. Not as selfish end in itself.
That is the thin line on which Adam and Korach were on the wrong side. By putting themselves first, Adam, and Korach's followers were reminded that they were just earthly beings… 'for you are dust, and as dust you will return'.
It follows from here that the Torah ideal for any person seeking work, or promotion in work, is to not to ask: 'What can I get out of it?' but 'How will what I do be of lasting benefit to others?'
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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