Study Talmud and Qur’an to understand Korach

Torah, Talmud and Qur’an all refer to Korach and his rebellion against Prophet Moses (Numbers 16:1-35). Studying all three scriptures is the best way to understand our own scripture.

The Torah focuses on the religious aspects of Korach’s challenge to Prophet Moses and Prophet Aaron’s God given right to rule. “Korach son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, and certain Reubenites — Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth — became insolent and rose up against Moses with 250 well-known Jewish community leaders, who had been appointed members of the council. They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them:

“You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?” (Numbers 16: 1-3)

Korach’s challenge seems to be based on democratic values. We are all members of the People of Israel, and we all entered the covenant with God at Mount Sinai. So why should just Moses be the political leader; and why should his brother be the High Priest, when I am also from the tribe of Levi just like you two are?

A talmudic view claims the envy of Korach was based not on democracy but on Korach former great wealth and high status in Egypt where the family of Moses, like all other Jews, was poor.

Rabbi Hama son of Rabbi Hanina said: Three treasures did Joseph hide in Egypt: one was revealed to Korach; one to Antoninus the son of Severus (or Asviros), and the third is stored up for the righteous in the future time.” (Babylonian Talmud, Pesachim 119a and Sanhedrin 110a)

Rabbi Hama claims Korach somehow had found and used a part of Prophet Joseph’s wealth to become a Jewish Leader; and now deserved to a the leader of the Jewish People in the desert, as he had been before Moses and Aaron started dealing with Pharaoh.

The Qur’an supports this view and tells us much more about Korach’s previous failures by stating; “Korach (transliterated Qaaroon) was surely of the people of Moses, but he (Korach) oppressed them, and We (God) gave him treasures, so much so that his hoards of wealth would weight down a body of strong men. When his people said to him: Exult not; surely Allah loves not the exultant. Qur’an 28:76

Thus, even though God helped Korach to find a part of Joseph’s great wealth; Korach used the wealth and acquired power to oppress the Jewish People; and they had already rejected him for exulting himself over them. When God’s earth swallows Korach and his supporters; it only reflects the Jewish people’s prior rejection of Korach’s oppression.

The importance of all this, is that both the rabbinic material and the Qur’an, can help Jews, Christians and Muslims understand their own sacred texts better than just the study of any one scripture in isolation. We do not have to believe in another religions sacred scripture in order to benefit from learning insights from it.

A wonderful Islamic Hadith Narrative tells us: A disciple of Muhammad named Abu Huraira related, “The people of the Book used to read the Torah in Hebrew and then explain it in Arabic to the Muslims. Allah’s Apostle said (to the Muslims). “Do not believe the people of the Book, nor disbelieve them, but say, ‘We believe in Allah, and whatever is revealed to us, and whatever is revealed to you.'”

Following Muhammad’s teaching I too neither believe nor disbelieve in the Qur’an. If I believed in the Qur’an I would be a member of the Muslim ummah (community). But I cannot disbelieve in the Qur’an because I believe that Muhammad was indeed a prophet to the world’s pagan polytheists; and I respect the Qur’an as a kindred revelation, first revealed to a kindred people, in a kindred language.

In fact, the people, the language and the theology are closer to my own people, language and theology than that of any other on earth.

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 250 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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