This week’s parsha features yet another attempt to destabilize the Jewish leadership in the wilderness, with Korach, a prominent Levite, gathering a sizable group to protest Moshe and Aharon. While those of us who have been following the past two parshiot are most likely thinking to ourselves “same old, same old” and “what else is new?,” I would like to answer the latter rhetorical question. Something different happens in our parsha, something big that has never happened before and does not happen again in the Torah- Moshe, instead of shying away from the rebellion and speaking to G-d, confronts the group and uses a miracle to prove his legitimacy:
וַיֹּאמֶר, מֹשֶׁה, בְּזֹאת תֵּדְעוּן, כִּי-ה’שְׁלָחַנִי לַעֲשׂוֹת אֵת כָּל-הַמַּעֲשִׂים הָאֵלֶּה: כִּי-לֹא, מִלִּבִּי. אִם-כְּמוֹת כָּל-הָאָדָם, יְמֻתוּן אֵלֶּה, וּפְקֻדַּת כָּל-הָאָדָם, יִפָּקֵד עֲלֵיהֶם–לֹא ה’, שְׁלָחָנִי. וְאִם-בְּרִיאָה יִבְרָא ה’, וּפָצְתָה הָאֲדָמָה אֶת-פִּיהָ וּבָלְעָה אֹתָם וְאֶת-כָּל-אֲשֶׁר לָהֶם, וְיָרְדוּ חַיִּים, שְׁאֹלָה–וִידַעְתֶּם, כִּי נִאֲצוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים הָאֵלֶּה אֶת-ה’.
And Moshe said: With this you shall know that G-d has sent me to do this work, and I have not done it from myself. If these men die a natural death, and will have the destiny of all men on them, then G-d has not sent me. But, if G-d will create a new thing, and the ground will open her mouth and swallow them up with all that is theirs, and they will fall alive into the pit, then you shall know that these men have despised G-d. (במדבר טז:כח-ל)
Moshe Rabeinu, well known as the most humble leader in Jewish history, is well known to walking away from confrontation and leaving the proofs and punishments to G-d. This is how he handled חטא העגל, the complainer, and, most recently, the sin of the spies. Yet here, he seems to change tack and goes directly on the offense without G-d giving him specific guidance. What made this rebellion so different that Moshe directly challenged them with miracles?
Furthermore, to those reading closely, the specific wording “בריאה יברא ה’- If G-d will create a new creation” should raise red flags for us. No matter how the pit is opened, it would still have the desired effect of killing Korach’s posse and showing everyone that Moshe’s leadership is legitimate. Why did this pit have to specifically be a “new creation”?
Ramban answers that Moshe promised a “new creation” because he wanted something completely unprecedented to happen, something so unusual and unearthly that even the most staunch non-believers would stop in their tracks and pay attention. For this, an earthquake wouldn’t suffice- only a full-scale, opening of the earth to eat Korach and Co. before mysteriously closing again, would be unnatural enough that all of the Jewish people would drop what they were doing and watch, and, more importantly, believe. This is why Moshe’s test and Korach’s punishment had to be a “new creation.”
With this in mind, we can also understand why Moshe reacted so directly to this attack on his headship. At this stage of Jewish history, a full-out rebellion would have been very easy to arrange. The Jews were not happy that they would be spending the next forty years in the wilderness and would never merit entering the Holy Land- they very likely blamed this on their leadership and would have been all too eager for a change in management. Moshe’s seeming habit of shying away from confrontation couldn’t have helped the situation either, and many may have viewed him as a weak leader. However, at this time, new leadership would have spelled out the destruction of the Jewish People- either by G-d’s hand or Amalek’s (as seen by the מעפילים in last week’s sedra). However, the people, so easily swayed by Korach’s calls of “כל העדה כולם קדושים” would not easily be convinced of the perils of their new leadership. Even a natural-seeming earthquake wouldn’t suffice to change their minds. Only a full-out, miraculous “בריאה חדשה” (in the words of Ramban), from a suddenly strong leadership figure, could remind them about what their priorities should be.
A sudden, miraculous change in leadership strategies and maneuvers is exactly what is happening now to rescue our recently kidnapped brothers Naftali Frankel, Gil’ad Shaar, and Eyal Yifrach. For the past couple of months, the Israeli government has been taking a seemingly weak stance on its relationship with our terrorist neighbors. Aside from the occasional retaliatory strike in Gaza, things have been pretty quiet on the war front, and the politicians have been showing a lot of weakness in their eagerness to reach peace and release murderers. However, when three innocent civilians, kids whose only crime was being born to a Jewish mother in Israel, are taken, a retaliatory airstrike and political pressure is not enough. The State of Israel is left with no choice except to raise the stakes, and start an all-out attack so serious that even the most propaganda-influenced Palestinian will have to wake up and begin to wonder why they live under a government whose charter marks Israel its mortal enemy. War is not an ideal situation, but when provoked by such an outright violation of international and moral law, Israel has to step in and ensure that nothing like this ever happens again. We can only hope that this operation will convince the Palestinian people, like (להבדיל אלף הבדלות) the Jews who commiserated with Korach’s cause, to abandon their mission and return our boys.
At the time of this writing, Naftali, Gil-ad, and Eyal have been missing for seven days. With Hashem’s help, we will see their speedy return home in good health, with a terrible vengeance exacted on the vile terrorists who took them. Shabbat Shalom and Besorot Tovot.