Ben-Tzion Spitz
Ben-Tzion Spitz
Former Chief Rabbi of Uruguay

Korach: Premeditated ritual entrapment?

 It is a revenge the devil sometimes takes upon the virtuous, that he entraps them by the force of the very passion they have suppressed and think themselves superior to. -George Santayana

Korach, together with accomplices Datan and Aviram, instigate a rebellion against the leadership of Moses and Aaron, the sons of Amram. They encourage 250 distinguished leaders of Israel to protest against the seeming nepotism of Moses, the de facto leader, and his brother Aaron, the High Priest.

Moses offers an unusual solution to their protest. He suggests that the 250 rebels come in front of the Tabernacle, each with his own fire pan with burning incense on it. Aaron will also come with his, and God will decide directly who is worthy of the designation of High Priest.

The 250 leaders come the next morning with their fire pans filled with burning incense. Aaron also arrives. Besides holes miraculously opening up in the ground and swallowing up Datan, Aviram, and their entourage, God sends a fire that kills each of the 250 rebellious leaders holding their incense burning fire pans. Aaron, Moses, and all other non-participants are unharmed.

However, the people of Israel are furious with Moses and Aaron and accuse them of murder. The Bechor Shor on Numbers 17:6 takes the accusation seriously and tries to understand what’s behind the murder accusation.

He explains that the accusers felt that Moses knew incense burning was a dangerous act. Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, had died by the hand of God for offering unauthorized incense. The rebel leaders had trusted Moses when he told them to bring their incense, but the accusers surmised that Moses must have known it would lead to their death, that handling incense was a death sentence to those who came in contact with it, except for Aaron who must have had some immunity.

God is not amused by the constant challenging of the leadership He chose. Having lost patience, He strikes the nation of Israel with an insanely fast-hitting plague. Moses, realizing God had struck, sends Aaron with incense in his ladle right into the middle of where the plague had started. Aaron rushes in and stops the plague, standing right in between the dead and the living; giving a very palpable demonstration that incense, correctly used, is not only not dangerous, but can save lives. In a matter of moments, 14,700 had died from the plague. Aaron and his incense were the only things that stood between the dead and the survivors.

May we realize the value of rituals as well as the value of good deeds.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

On the marriage of our niece Leora Spitz to Sammy Landesman. Mazal Tov!

About the Author
Ben-Tzion Spitz is the former Chief Rabbi of Uruguay and a candidate for the Knesset for the Zehut party. He is the author of three books of Biblical Fiction and hundreds of articles and stories dealing with biblical themes. Ben-Tzion is a graduate of Yeshiva University and received his Master’s in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University.
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