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Parasha Korach (Korah): How to Avoid the Sin of Strife

Korach (Korah)
Numbers 16:1–18:32; 1 Samuel 11:14–12:22; Acts 5:1–11

“Korach son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and certain Reubenites — Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth — became insolent and rose up against Moses.” (Numbers 16:1–2)

In last week’s Parasha (Torah portion) Shelach Lecha, the seeds of rebellion were sown as the Israelites threatened to replace Moses as their leader.  So great was their fear of the giants in the Promised Land, and so great was their unbelief that they would be able to overcome those giants, that they wanted to forsake the promises of God and return to Egypt.

In this week’s Torah study, the rebellion continues with the mutiny against Moses’ leadership by a man named Korach (קֹרַח), which means baldness, ice, hail, or frost.

A Jewish 13-year-old male reads from a Torah scroll protected by an elaborately decorated Torah tik.

A Jewish 13-year-old male reads from a Torah scroll protected by an elaborately decorated Torah tik.

The Abomination of Strife and Division

God loves peace and the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) dwells in peace (shalom).

God hates strife, discord, and division between brothers, calling the one who sows them an abomination:

“These six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him: … one who sows discord among brethren.” (Proverbs 6:16, 19)

To highlight this sin, the Scripture portion this week is also called the Parasha of Machloket (Strife) since Korach created division, strife, and disaster within the community through his rebellion, discontent, and dirty politics.

In fact, the name Korach is derived from Korcha, which means split.

Torah scroll and yad (Torah pointer)

Open Torah scroll and silver yad (Torah pointer)

With an utter lack of humility, Korach, who was a Levite, rose up against Moses, joining forces with Datan and Aviram, who were from the tribe of Reuben, along with On, son of Pelet and 250 respected chieftains from the Israelite community.

But what charge did the rebels have against Moses?

They accused him of exalting himself over the community:

“They gathered together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, ‘You take too much upon yourselves, for all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them.  Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?’”  (Numbers 16:3)

In fact, this sin that they accused Moses of was, in reality, their own sin.  Sadly, many are guilty of such self-deception and projection.

It is vital to realize that people often unknowingly judge others for the very sins that they themselves are committing.

“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.”  (Romans 2:1)

Moreover, wicked people don’t necessarily realize that their deeds are evil, having internally justified themselves that their way is the right way.  This in no way negates the seriousness of that sin, however.


Reading from the Torah scroll

The Genesis of Discord and Strife

Wisdom calls for discerning the underlying motivation of a brother creating strife before making judgments and issuing condemnations.  And this is just what Moses did.

Moses knew the reason for Korach’s discord — the dark desire that lurked in his heart to exalt himself and the Levitical priesthood to the position God had expressly granted to the Aaronic priesthood.

Since God Himself had made the priesthood and outlined the duties of the Levites, they acted in rebellion against the authority of God.

Moses pinpointed the problem when he said,

“Hear now, you sons of Levi: Is it a small thing to you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to Himself, to do the work of the tabernacle of the LORD, and to stand before the congregation to serve them; and that He has brought you near to Himself, you and all your brethren, the sons of Levi, with you?”  (Numbers 16:8–10)

Not too long before their rebellion, God chose the Levites to be caretakers of the Holy Tabernacle — the structure and its vessels — as servants to the Aaronic priesthood.

While all Levites serve God, Aaron and his descendants held the special appointment of being allowed to approach the altar to perform sacrifices.  The Kohen HaGadol (High Priest) could even enter the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant stood, a status that would certainly stir some hearts to great envy.

Moses pointedly asked the group, “Are you seeking the priesthood also?

The Word of God warns us against this sort of self-aggrandizing ambition as it brings with it great evil.

“For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” (James 3:16)

Envy and selfish ambition cause all kinds of trouble in our personal lives, not only at home or at work, but also in congregations and fellowships as those who are neither qualified nor anointed vie for positions God never intended them to occupy.

The Kohen Gadol (High Priest)

The Kohen Gadol (High Priest)

Death and Separation: The Consequence of Strife

“Moses sent a summons to Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab; but they said, ‘We will not come up.’”  (Numbers 16:12)

Korach sinned by coveting the more prestigious role of the Aaronic priesthood, rather than that of Levitical servanthood. Unlike Datan and Aviram, he had the courage to confront Moses directly, face to face.

During this confrontation, Datan and Aviram seemed to remain in their tents.  They sinned by rebelling against Moses’ authority over them as God’s divinely appointed leader.  When Moses called for them, they replied, “Loh na’aleh (we won’t go up).

Ironically, those who refused to “go up” to negotiate peace with Moses ended up “going down” to their deaths.  The earth swallowed them up (as well as their families and Korach’s family) alive.

“So they and all those with them went down alive into the pit; the earth closed over them, and they perished from among the assembly.”  (Numbers 16:33)

The other 250 in the group, who were offering incense to God and therefore elevating themselves to the position of the Aaronic priesthood, were consumed by fire.  (Numbers 16:35)

The firepans on which they were offering incense were pounded into copper plating for the altar, a visible warning for the Levites to stop encroaching on the Tabernacle and assuming the responsibilities of the Aaronic priesthood.

It also served as a reminder to the community of Israelites that sowing strife, questioning God’s leadership, and exalting themselves to positions of leadership ultimately lead to their own destruction.

“A worthless person, a wicked man … he sows discord.  Therefore his calamity shall come suddenly; Suddenly he shall be broken without remedy.”  (Proverbs 6:12–15)

Jewish men and children pray at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.

Jewish men and children pray at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.

Wisdom and Godly Company: Avoiding the Korachs of Today

The rabbis consider this rebellion of Korach the most perilous moment for Israel during its wilderness journey, remembering Korach as the “Torah’s professional troublemaker and the most famous rabble-rousing Jew of all time.” (Torah with a Twist of Humor)

Pointing to the negative example of Korach as a “peddler of hatred,” the rabbis caution that we should not befriend evil people (al titchaber im rashah).  Indeed, Proverbs 13:20 counsels that “a companion of fools will suffer harm.”

This is one of the main lessons that we may learn from this Torah portion.

King Solomon (Shlomo), whose very name comes from the Hebrew word for peace (shalom), advises us to find wisdom, which prevents us from following wicked, devious people:

“Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men, from men whose words are perverse, who have left the straight paths to walk in dark ways, who delight in doing wrong and rejoice in the perverseness of evil, whose paths are crooked and who are devious in their ways.”  (Proverbs 2:12–15)

In fact, in this Torah reading, Moses warned the people of Israel to move away from the tents of Korach, Datan, and Aviram lest they be destroyed by God’s judgment of their sin, as well:

“Depart, please, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest you be swept away with all their sins.” (Numbers 16:26)

Destruction of Korah Dathan and Abiram, illustration from the 1890 Holman Bible

Destruction of Korach, Datan and Aviram, an illustration from the 1890 Holman Bible

The Apostle Paul confirms this sage advice of King Solomon and the rabbis: “Do not be misled. Bad company corrupts good character.”  (1 Corinthians 15:33)

That is not to say that we should not minister to those who are caught in sin.

Yeshua (Jesus) ate with and talked to sinners and social outcasts — tax collectors, prostitutes, adulterers, beggars and lepers.  He loved them enough to share the Kingdom of God with them and called them to repentance and holiness.

He did not, however, allow their sinful desires and behavior to influence or deter His holy purpose.  And He did not allow any outside influence to taint the holiness of His calling.

Likewise, we should not allow strife, jealousy, self-aggrandizement or any other sin to taint our calling as royal children of the Most High King.

And rather than being jealous of the power, prestige, position, or possessions of others, let us be content with what God has given us.

“Godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Timothy 6:6)

Moreover, Yeshua said, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’”  (Hebrews 13:5)

With God as our Father and Friend, we can trust Him to meet our social, physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.

As we’ll see next, being humble and gentle are two Godly ways we can avoid strife.

Rolling the Torah scroll during a Shabbat service (Photo by Noelle Gilles)

Rolling up the Torah scroll during a Shabbat service. (Photo by Noelle Gilles)

Choose Humility:  A Solution to Strife

The truth of the matter is that Moses did not exalt himself over Korach and the others; it is God who raised him up into the position of leading Israel out of Egypt.

It was not his own desire to be the leader of Israel; rather, he was a leader of Israel as an act of obedience to the Lord.  He was not in that position due to self-aggrandizing ambition or a desire to rule over others.

Even in that exalted position, Moses was called the most humble man on earth (Numbers 12:3), and we are told to humble ourselves as well.

Walking in humility is being willing to walk in obedience to our calling — whether God is requiring us to wash dishes or serve in a position of leadership or wash dishes while in a position of leadership.

It also means allowing God to exalt us in His perfect way and time — not to exalt ourselves out of jealousy or discontentment but to be content in our status today. (1 Peter 5:6)

Rabbi Shlomo Moshe Amar, the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, with Jewish Scholar Yosef Yehudah Joseph J Sherman at Ohr Somayach, Jerusalem.

Rabbi Shlomo Moshe Amar, the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, with Jewish Scholar Yosef Yehudah Joseph J Sherman at Ohr Somayach, Jerusalem.

Choose Gentleness: Another Solution to Strife

In addition to contentment and humility, we are not to seek a showdown or create a power-struggle; we are to seek harmony and peace, allowing God to judge between people.

The Bible tells us that “a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”  (Proverbs 15:1)

We must remember also that we all see through the glass of God’s mysteries dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12).  One day, though, when all truth is revealed at the Second Coming of the Messiah, it may be effortless to live in a world without strife or division while our Messiah reigns from Jerusalem.  

May we all learn to walk in greater humility, contentment and gentleness towards all people; and may God bring unity and peace between brothers, as it is written, Hinei mah tov umah na’yim; shevet achim gam yachad — Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity.”   (Psalm 133:1)

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