|With last week’s portion behind us, we would think we would read of a more humbled people who recognize their sin and are in repentance asking God for mercy and compassion. But instead, this week’s portion immediately starts out “וַיִּקַּח קֹרַח—And Korah took”|
The Rashi explains, “He betook himself on one side with the view of separating himself from out of the community so that he might raise a protest regarding the priesthood…”
We understand that Korah took Datan and Aviram as accomplices in his protest against the Leadership of Israel. (i.e. Moses and Aaron) But, according to Rashi, it wasn’t just taking/selecting co-conspirators that was the problem, it was that he took himself out of the congregation of Israel. He distanced himself from the community and raised others up with him in his rebellion.
Only once he had gathered a confederacy around him, did he start a propaganda campaign to gather the nation of Israel with him.
Korah was in this rebellion for himself. How do we know this? From the first 2 words of this portion, “Korah took.” Korah was a man who took and did things for his own gain. He wasn’t concerned about the congregation, but was instead trying to settle a personal grudge against Moses and Aaron by using his influence to turn the tide of opinions negatively
toward Israel’s leadership.
Korah knew if he could turn the people to him, by convincing them that they were good and holy; they would rebel against Moses and Aaron. He convinced the people that it was Moses’ fault they were not entering the land and showed the people how the laws Moses had put in place could be used to benefit his extended family, Aaron and his sons. (Look up “Korah’s Parable”)
He used his own personal grudge to stir up and gather leaders around himself; he took his bitterness and embittered those around him. It was a poison that spread and became a national incident because evil speech and festering rebellion weren’t dealt with.
We can hear the tone in the first words of this confrontation, when Korah says, “You take too much upon yourselves…”
It was an accusation against Moses and Aaron’s Leadership. A verbal barb saying –You think too much of yourselves. You want to control everything. You’re control freaks–
Then he (Korah) continues by saying, “…all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them…”
Here he backs up his point by bringing the congregation to his side, using wording that connect the hearers with his viewpoint. It may have started with selfish motivations, but now in order to challenge Moses’ authority he needs the backing of the nation.
“…Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?”
Basically, Korah is offended not to be part of the “in-group.” If he can’t be a leader in the community, then no one should be. It’s all or nothing. Period.
So, here is the challenge Moses gives from God to the rebellious throng, “…Do this: Take censers, Korah and all your company; put fire in them and put incense in them before the Lord tomorrow, and it shall be that the man whom the Lord chooses is the holy one…”
And this is the verse I want to focus on for this week. After a lot of back-story we finally arrive at the showdown of this weeks Torah portion.
In Midrash Tanchuma, Korah 5:24-25, Moses addresses the rebellious crowd,
“…In the religions of the nations there are many laws, and they do not all assemble in one house. Now as for us, we only have one God, one Torah, one justice, one altar, and one high priest; but you two hundred and fifty men are [yet all] seeking high priesthood…”
Now we see Korah’s instigated rebellion has spread to where there isn’t even a leader in the sense that everyone in Korah’s Company is vying for position as High priest. Every one of those 250 men thought themselves fitting to replace whom God had already chosen.
How have they already forgotten the “strange fire” offered by Nadav and Avihu? How they went into the tabernacle and were consumed? Aish l’aish—fire to fire; a profane fire consumed by a holy blaze…they would have all remembered the episode of Nadav and Avihu’s sudden deaths. (Leviticus 10:1-3) Yet they still carried on with their rebellion. It shows us how arrogant this company was, to actually carry out this challenge.
We know that incense represents our prayers as it says in Psalm 141,“Let my prayer be counted as incense before You…”
So, if the censers were full of “prayers” to God, and each man was lifting up his requests, they were actually inviting God’s fire to come and consume their offering.
Here was the problem, “…these people draw near with their mouths, and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me…” (Isaiah 29:13)
Their intentions were not pure. They did not desire to bring a sweet smelling aroma to the Lord, they did not desire to do things the prescribed way as ordered by God, they did not desire to heed the voices of the ones God had raised up. And so, in a way, they offered their incense to another god = themselves.
(One side note here: no matter how pure our intentions, when we disobey God there are consequences. (See 2 Samuel 6:6-7))
Their offering was received, but they were consumed with their offering, because of the sin in their heart. The lifting of their censers was “each man for himself.” Each man playing the role of High priest in the place of God’s chosen. They were all about themselves…
Later in this chapter we read another interesting story, dealing with a censer and incense… Numbers 16:41. ‘On the next day (After Korah’s rebellion) all the congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, saying, “You have killed the people of the Lord”…Moses said to Aaron, “Take a censer and put fire in it from the altar, put incense on it, and take it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them; for wrath has gone out from the Lord. The plague has begun”… And he stood between the dead and the living; so the plague was stopped.’
Here we also see an instance where a censer with incense is used. But its bearer (Aaron) is not consumed by fire.
What was the difference between Korah’s incense censer and Aaron’s?
They both were representatives of the people, they both were men of high standing in the congregation, they both had a special calling from God placed on them…What made one different from the other? Why was Korah consumed while Aaron was not?
From these questions we could go in many different directions, but I would propose one thought to cap this lesson.
Korah claimed to represent the people, but was all about personal gain and glory.
Aaron who did represent the people, was all about peace and humility.
Korah placed himself (along with 250 other men) in the position of High priest.
Aaron who was High priest, recognized it was not a position he had achieved.
Korah used a censer of incense to promote himself and set himself apart from the people.
Aaron used a censer of incense to stand in the gap and make atonement for the people.
As we pray for Israel today. Pray that God would keep her leaders from the spirit of Korah and Co. and instead cause them to walk as Aaron, in humility and making atonement for the people of God.
This is what true leaders do.
This is our own calling as well. That we should not walk in the spirit of Korah, nor use the things of God for our own personal gain; but we would use the gifts God has given each of us individually to edify and make atonement for the people of God.
May each of us daily walk in the spirit of Aaron: who stood in the gap between the living and the dead, offering a pure sacrifice of prayer and the holy fire of action in an acceptable and pleasing way to God. And when we do that, may the fragrance of the Messiah become ever stronger in
this world as we approach the day of His coming!