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   by Jacob Solomon

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When Korach and his party argued that Moses and Aaron concentrated too much power in their own hands, Moses' first reply was:

[Moses] spoke to Korach and all his assembly: '... Korach and all his assembly shall take fire-pans… set them alight and put incense upon them before G-d (in the Sanctuary), and the man that G-d shall choose - he is the holy one'. (16:6-7)

That was trial by ordeal. The fire-pans were the sacred utensils used in the offerings. As Rashi explains, Moses told Korach's followers that the way to determine whom G-d had chosen was through the ketoret - the frankincense. That involved the most sacred service (it formed part of the High Priest's procedure on behalf of the Israelites on Yom Kippur). But the incense contained the potential of death - Nadab and Abihu died when they brought the 'strange fire' (Lev. 10:1). Moses hoped that such means would end their delusions of grandeur, and that they would cease their rebellion.

Moses' first approach was making them fear death. Since they were unmoved, he used a different frame - namely love of G-d, and gratefulness for His favors:

'Is it not enough for you that G-d… brought you … and your brothers the Levites from the assembly of Israel near to Him. Yet you seek the Priesthood as well?' (ibid. 9-10)

The order is a strange one. One would expect that Moses would first discourage Korach and his followers by persuasion - reminding them of G-d's distinguishing them within the Israelite population. Only after that failed, would he use harsher means, based in creating fear. Why did Moses put fear of G-d first, and employ love of G-d (out of recognition of His kindness) only when it became clear that mere physical threat would not work?

As a response, look at Korach's position in the community. This gives us an insight into what to take into account when looking at Moses' handling of his rebuke, and, in a much wider context, the importance of the status of the underlying relationship.

A fellow vacationer eats food that is patently non-kosher. As a personal friend and committed Jew, an anguished: 'Are you crazy? You know it's trayf (not kosher). Throw it out!' could make the point. But if the Jew is a stranger - a more 'distant relationship'- it would be appropriate to approach him with velvet gloves, tactfully and in a meaningful way presenting the importance of observing kashrut at all times.

That widely-applying principle may be learnt with the way Moses initially handled Korach's rebellion. He first treated Korach as an insider - in the frame of 'we are both close to G-d - and let G-d choose. You know the dangers - if you want to face them, go ahead'. Only when he saw that Korach was not impressed did he step back and use the 'more distant' frame of 'the Jew as a stranger': 'G-d… brought you … and your brothers the Levites from the assembly of Israel near to Him…'

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: 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:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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