Gershon Hepner

Rebellion: Korah, Dathan and Abiram

Korah was a rebel against Moses,

a Levite joined by Dathan and Abiram

who troubled Moses with their diagnoses

of politics, although he did not fear ’em.


Since Korah was a Levite he regarded

himself as equal of the Hebrews’ leader.

The Reubenites thought they had been retarded

by Levi’s tribe, which they believed a cheater

since Reuben was the oldest of the brothers,

and so with Korah they made common cause.

Of course there must have been a lot of others,

like people who detested Moses’ laws,

including those that gave them freedom, for

a lot of Hebrews had a slave mentality,

preferring to be ear-punched by the door,

affirming their old slavery’s legality.

Though Korah was extremely bright the rest

were hardly more than mediocrities,

of Moses jealous, though he was the best

of all the brightest, he proto-Socrates.


They shouted at their leader with a clamor:

“We all are holy!  Why do you presume

that only you are?  Even when you stammer

your pride is an unsightly impostume.”


The midrash says he stammered after seizing

a coal the angels offered him to tempt

the baby whom they found to be displeasing.

A tongue burned by a coal might well exempt

a common mortal from high office. Moses,

inhibited because his speech was curbed,

was troubled by the stutter diagnosis,

but God ignored it, not at all disturbed,

though He appointed Aaron as his spokes-

man, prophet who communicated all

God’s words to Moses to the Jews, sans jokes,

which Bible authors also don’t recall.


To all the rebels Moses said: “The Lord

will let you have, as you demand, your turn.

Take fire-pans, the best you can afford,

and put in incense which you have to burn.

From the smoke I’m sure we’ll get a sign

that tells us which of us God chooses.

Oh sons of Levi, God can hear you whine:

beware what happens to the one who loses.

After all, the Lord has elevated

all Levites like you as His special servants;

so why should you all now be consecrated

with uncommanded ritual observance?

Is it possible you wish to turn

from holy Levites into jumped-up priests?
Misplaced ambition causes fools to burn,

and singes tailcoats worn by arrivistes.”


Then Dathan and Abiram also spoke:

“We’ve never seen a land of milk and honey,

but wilderness, which really is a joke.

You’ve burned us, taken all our money,

and now it seems you also want to blind us.

You think we’re like Egyptian slaves, but dumber:

we cannot put our dreadful past behind us

until you understand we’ve got your number.”

(No wordplay here with “number” is intended;

in Numbers this arresting is then told,

but though the Bible’s wordplay may be splendid,

this accidental one must be paroled.)

But Moses did not choose to dignify

insulting words Dathan and Abiram

had hurled on him, preferring to rely

on God to Whom he prayed: “Please do not hear ’em,”

and to these plaintive words the prophet added:

“I’ve never used a public ass or horse.

Expense accounts I never once have padded,

so do not help them in their hostile course.

Don’t turn towards their incense withYour fire;

make sure they see that I’m the one You trust.

The Israelites don’t care much for a liar:

do not allow their incense to combust.”


All rebels placed the incense in their pans

and stood beside the tabernacle’s gate,

like latter day fanatics with Qurans,

their hearts quite clearly all consumed with hate.

And God said both to Moses and to Aaron:

“From all these rebels separate at once!

Their ideology to Me is foreign,

and their complaints to Me sounds like reruns

of tragedies befalling other nations,

of people whom I’ve chosen quite unworthy.

I soon will disappoint their expectations

by burning some and making others earthy.”


Both leaders fell at once upon their face,

and said: “Oh Lord of spirits, if one sinner

should publicly become a great disgrace

and you should punish all, who’d be the winner?”

And God replied: “That’s why you have to tell

all people now from Korah to depart,

for very soon Sheol and gates of hell

will summon each rebellious upstart.”


Now Dathan and Abiram with their band

remained beside the entrance of their tents,

and Moses said: “You soon will all crash-land

and die a death that will be most intense.

The dying won’t be like that which men die

when timely death occurs once they have aged;

your factious faction very soon will fry,

as evidence how all of you’ve enraged

the Lord.  For others He will make a chasm,

and, opening wide, the mouth of earth will gape;

the rebels all will die, their ectoplasm

destroyed by fire, no one will escape.

If you died normal deaths no one would know

that I am not the messenger of God;

that He’s appointed me He’s going to show

by making sure your mode of death is odd.”


The earth, once he had finished speaking, cleaved

beneath the feet of all the rebels who

opposed their leader, just as he’d believed

and prophesied––it was a major coup

for him.  The rebels by the earth were swallowed

and their possessions tumbled in the ground,

while from Sheol the plaintive cries that followed

pierced hearts of onlookers with mournful sound.


A panic caught the Israelites, who fled

in fear that they would die like all the rebels,

and fall into the earth just as the dead

had fallen to their deepest depths like pebbles.

The fire came forth from the Lord and burned

two hundred fifty rebels who had stood

with censers next to Korah and had spurned

the leadership of Moses, and like wood

ignited as once Nadab and Abihu

had done when they too offered God strange fire.

You could not really call this déjà vu,

for Nadab and Abihu had far higher

ambitions than the co-conspirators

of Korah, and of Dathan and Abiram.

Forbidden to come close to God’s great force

some plunged while others burned.  Too near Him

the best of us are very rarely singed

because He rarely sends down flames to burn us,

but very often we become unhinged

in ways that cause our friends and God to spurn us.

About the Author
Gershon Hepner is a poet who has written over 25,000 poems on subjects ranging from music to literature, politics to Torah. He grew up in England and moved to Los Angeles in 1976. Using his varied interests and experiences, he has authored dozens of papers in medical and academic journals, and authored "Legal Friction: Law, Narrative, and Identity Politics in Biblical Israel." He can be reached at