Not So Easy to Swallow: Korah 2018

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Are there right ways and wrong ways to stop a rebellion? How do we balance the need for order with the need to dignify and acknowledge differing voices?

When Korah and his company challenge Moses’s leadership, their doom is sealed in a vivid and dramatic way:

The Pitch: “Scarcely had [Moses] finished speaking all these words when the ground under them burst asunder, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up with their households, all Korah’s people and all their possessions. They went down alive into Sheol, with all that belonged to them; the earth closed over them and they vanished from the midst of the congregation.” – Numbers 16:31-33

Swing #1: “When Moses finishes speaking, the ground opens up and the company around Korah, including their families and tents, falls into the earth, which, remarkably, covers them over. The desire to return to Egypt is thus equated with the destruction of the Hebrew people as if the earth had swallowed them up and left no trace.” – Aaron Wildavsky, Moses as Political Leader

Swing #2: “The addition of Korah and his people to this catastrophe just before the end of verse 32 looks like an editorial afterthought that is inconsistent with the preceding account of Dathan and Abiram, sans Levites, standing at the entrance of their tents as the convulsion of the earth begins.” – Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative

Swing #3: “The congregation of Korah will not be restored [at the time of resurrection], as it is said (Num. 16:33) And the earth closed over them, i.e., in this world; and they disappeared from the midst of the congregation — in the world to come. So says R. Akiba. R. Eliezer, however, says: Concerning them, Scripture says: (I Sam. 2:6) The LORD deals death and gives life, casts down into Sheol and raises up.” – Ein Yaakov

Late-Inning Questions: Our commentators differ on whether the punishment for Korah’s rebellion is incidental or intentional (and total). Do these differences reflect our conflicted feelings about the rights of those who dissent? Does a disrespectful rebellion, however bothersome, deserve a respectful response? When today’s professional athletes are ordered to stand when the National Anthem is played before a game, should we be grateful that the anthem is played without distraction, or should we be more disturbed that the athletes don’t have a chance to speak their minds?

Summer Training: Of my three health goals for this summer (drinking 8 cups of water per day, eating 4 servings of fruits/vegetables per day, walking 10,000 steps per day), the exercise element is vastly the most difficult for me thus far. What is your biggest challenge in terms of managing your health?

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of rebellions, an underrated movie from the 1980s called Amazing Grace and Chuck centers around a Little League pitcher who refuses to pitch until the world is rid of nuclear weapons, an act that sparks a worldwide movement. Though obviously fictional, it’s curious to wonder how athletes might most effectively create social change.

Shabbat Shalom!