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It’s Korach versus Moses

ONE NIGHT ONLY! At the TABERNACLE!

Who will prevail as the leader….who will face God’s fury?

This is Episode 38 of the weekly Torah cartoon from G-dcast.com. Each week, a different storyteller – some musical, some poetic, some just straight-up, tell the story of the current Torah portion…and then we animate it!

Korah or Kórach (Hebrew: קֹרַח, Standard Kórakh Tiberian Qōraḥ, ‘Baldness, ice, hail, frost’) Some older English translations, as well as the Douay Bible), spell the name Core,[1] and many Eastern European translations have Korak. The name is associated with at least two Biblical villains:
Moses and Korah, 1466 manuscript miniature, National Library of Poland.

Korah or Kórach (Hebrew: קֹרַח, Standard Kórakh Tiberian Qōraḥ; “Baldness; ice; hail; frost”) Some older English translations, as well as the Douay Bible), spell the name Core,[1] and many Eastern European translations have Korak. The name is associated with at least two Biblical villains:

Esau’s Son who fought against Israel

According to Genesis 36:5, Korah was the son of Esau and Aholibamah, and had two brothers, “Jeush, and Jaalam“. Genesis 36:14 has Korah’s mother, Aholibamah, being descended from Anah, the daughter of Zibeon, making Zibeon Korah’s maternal grandfather. The same verses, repeats Genesis 36:5 and names his two brothers again.

Esau had multiple wives and Korah is also listed as a grandson of Esau through Eliphaz, causing some confusion. Esau and his wife Adah bore Eliphaz. Genesis 36:16 states that Eliphaz bore a number of sons (called here, dukes) that came from his son Eliphaz, and one of them is Duke Korah. It is not unreasonable that Esau had a son and a grandson named Korah.

However, it is not this Korah of the lineage of Esau that rebelled against Moses and the Israelites. The Korah who fought against Israel was the son of Izhar, the son of Kehath, the son of Levi, becoming the great-grandson of Levi, the third son of Jacob born to Leah who became the progenitor of the tribe of Levi (Num.16:1; Gen. 29:31-35). The details about the rebellion of Korah along with Dathan and Abiram is narrated in Numbers 16:1-40. They resisted Moses’ leadeship and as a result were swallowed by the earth along with many of their households. However the children of Korah were spared and remained alive (Numbers 26:11) and later wrote some Psalms [PVC].

Izhar’s Son (the Levite) who rebelled against Moses

The Punishment of Korah and the Stoning of Moses and Aaron. Fresco by Sandro Botticelli in the Sistine Chapel, 1480-82.

Exodus 6:21 cites another Korah as being the son of Izhar son of Kohath son of Levi. Korah’s brothers through Izhar were Nepheg and Zichri. Exodus 6:18 connects this Korah with Hebron, Uzziel and Amram who where his father’s brothers (Izhar son of Kohath). 1 Chronicles 6:2,18,38, and 23:12, repeat this genealogy; however, this reference could have been inspired by the Exodus genealogies. Hebron is the patriarch from whom the region is named.

Numbers 16:1 traces this lineage back further to Levi, son of the patriarch Israel. According to Numbers 16:21, his lineage goes: “Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi,” making him the great-grandson of the patriarch Levi and the cousin of Moses and Aaron.

Numbers 16:1-40 indicates that Korah rebelled against Moses, and was punished for his rebellion when God sent fire from heaven that consumed him and 249 of his fellow coconspirators. His two Reubenite accomplices, Dathan and Abiram, also perished when God caused the ground to split open beneath their feet and swallow them up with their families and everything they owned. Numbers 16:41 Furthermore, the Israelites who did not like what had happened to Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (and their families) objected to Moses, and God then commanded Moses to depart from the multitude. God then smote 14,700 men with plague, as punishment for objecting to Korah’s destruction.

Numbers 26:11 Notwithstanding the children of Korah died not.

In Rabbinical Literature: {Jewish Encyclopedia}

The name “Korah” is explained by the Rabbis of the Talmudic area as meaning “baldness.” It was given to Korah on account of the gap or blank which he made in Israel by his revolt (Sanh. 109b). Korah is represented as the possessor of extraordinary wealth, he having discovered one of the treasures which Joseph had hidden in Egypt. The keys of Korah’s treasuries alone formed a load for three hundred mules (Pes. 119a; Sanh. 110a). He and Haman were the two richest men in the world, and both perished on account of their rapacity, and because their riches were not the gift of Heaven (Num. R. xxii. 7; comp. Ex. R. li. 1). On the other hand, Korah is represented as a wise man, chief of his family and as one of the Kohathites who carried the Ark of the Covenant on their shoulders (Tan., ed. Buber, Ḳoraḥ, Supplement, 5; Num. R. xviii. 2).

Cause of Revolt

The chief cause of Korah’s revolt was, according to the Rabbis, the nomination of Elizaphan, son of Uzziel, as prince over the Kohathites (Num. iii. 30), Korah arguing thus: “Kohath had four sons [Ex. vi. 18]. The two sons of Amram, Kohath’s eldest son, took for themselves the kingdom and the priesthood. Now, as I am the son of Kohath’s second son, I ought to be made prince over the Kohathites, whereas Moses gave that office to Elizaphan, the son of Kohath’s youngest son” (Num. R. xviii. 1; Tan., Ḳoraḥ, 3). Korah plied Moses with the following questions: “Does a ṭallit made entirely of blue wool need fringes?” To Moses’ affirmative answer Korah objected: “The blue color of the ṭallit does not make it ritually correct, yet according to thy statement four blue threads do so” (Num. xv. 38). “Does a house filled with the books of the Law need a mezuzah?” Moses replied that it did; whereupon Korah said: “The presence of the whole Torah, which contains 175 chapters, does not make a house fit for habitation, yet thou sayest that one chapter thereof does so. It is not from God that thou hast received these commandments; thou hast invented them thyself.” He then assembled 250 men, chiefs of the Sanhedrin, and, having clad them in ṭallitot of blue wool, but without fringes, prepared for them a banquet. Aaron’s sons came for the priestly share, but Korah and his people refused to give the prescribed portions to them, saying that it was not God but Moses who commanded those things. Moses, having been informed of these proceedings, went to the house of Korah to effect a reconciliation, but the latter and his 250 followers rose up against him (Num. R. xviii. 2; Tan. l.c.; comp. Targ. pseudo-Jonathan to Num. xvi. 2).

Korah consulted his wife also, who encouraged him in the revolt, saying: “See what Moses has done. He has proclaimed himself king; he has made his brother high priest, and his brother’s sons priests; still more, he has made thee shave all thy hair [comp. Num. viii. 7] in order to disfigure thee.” Korah answered: “But he has done the same to his own sons.” His wife replied: “Moses hated thee so much that he was ready to do evil to his own children provided the same evil would overtake thee” (Midr. Agadah to Num. xvi. 8; Yalḳ., Num. 750; comp. Num. R. l.c.; Tan. l.c.; Sanh. 110a).

Korah’s Parable

The Death of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, by Gustave Doré.

Korah incited all the people against Moses, arguing that it was impossible to endure the laws instituted by the latter. He told them the following parable: “A widow, the mother of two young daughters, had a field. When she came to plow it, Moses told her not to plow it with an ox and an ass together (Deut. xxii. 10); when she came to sow it, Moses told her not to sow it with mingled seeds (Lev. xix. 19). At the time of harvest she had to leave unreaped the parts of the field prescribed by the Law, while from the harvested grain she had to give the priest the share due to him. The woman sold the field and with the proceeds bought two sheep. But the first-born of these she was obliged to give to Aaron the priest; and at the time of shearing he required the first of the fleece also (Deut. xviii. 4). The widow said: ‘I can not bear this man’s demands any longer. It will be better for me to slaughter the sheep and eat them.’ But Aaron came for the shoulder, the two cheeks, and the maw (ib. verse 3). The widow then vehemently cried out: ‘If thou persistest in thy demand, I declare them devoted to the Lord.’ Aaron replied: ‘In that case the whole belongs to me’ (Num. xviii. 14), whereupon he took away the meat, leaving the widow and her two daughters wholly unprovided for” (Num. R. xviii. 2-3; Tan., Ḳoraḥ, 4-6).

The question how it was possible for a wise man like Korah to be so imprudent as to rebel is explained by the fact that he was deceived through his own prophetical capacity. He had foreseen that the prophet Samuel would be his descendant, and therefore concluded that he himself would escape punishment. But he was mistaken; for, while his sons escaped, he perished (Num. R. xviii. 7; Tan., Ḳoraḥ, 12).

Destruction of Korah

At the time of Korah’s engulfment, the earth became like a funnel, and everything that belonged to him, even linen that was at the launderer’s and needles that had been borrowed by persons living at a distance from Korah, rolled till it fell into the chasm (Yer. Sanh. x. 1; Num. R. l.c.). According to the Rabbis, Korah himself underwent the double punishment of being burned and buried alive (Num. R. l.c. 14; Tan., Ḳoraḥ, 23). He and his followers continued to sink till Hannah prayed for them (Gen. R. xcviii. 3); and through her prayer, the Rabbis declare, Korah will ascend to paradise (Ab. R. N. xxxvi.; Num. R. xviii. 11; comp. Sanh. 109b). Rabbah bar bar Ḥana narrates that while he was traveling in the desert, an Arab showed him the place of Korah’s engulfment. There was at the spot a slit in the ground into which he introduced some wool soaked in water. The wool became parched. On placing his ear to the slit, he heard voices cry: “Moses and his Torah are true; and we are liars” (B. B. 74a; comp. Tan., ed. Buber, Ḳoraḥ, Supplement).S. S. M. Sel.

Quranic Reference

Korah is also mentioned in the Quran by the name of Qarun. He is recognized as the rich cousin of Musa (Moses)(p), and became very arrogant due to his pride and ignorance.[2]{Verily, Qarun (Korah) was of Musa’s (Moses) people, but he behaved arrogantly towards them. And We gave him of the treasures, that of which the keys would have been a burden to a body of strong men…} Quran (28:76) The Quran agrees with the previous section in that he was punished due to his extreme arrogance by being swallowed by the earth along with all his great material wealth. The place in which he had perished is still present to this day.

Significance

The Biblical name Korah is important because it became associated with Biblical villains and traitors for two reasons:

  1. In the case of Korah son of Esau, both Esau and Korah waged war against Israel, and Esau was hated by God because of it according to Malachi 1:3. In these struggles Korah became renowned as a warrior and a fighter, and was legendary in Canaan because of abilities.
  2. In the case of Korah son of Izhar, he is remembered for the rebellious action together with Dathan and Abiram against Moses according to Numbers 16:21. This story also appears in the Qur’an, where Korah is named Qarun (see Biblical narratives and the Qur’an). The story of this “fallen Levite” or “corrupted priest” is one of the many stories in the Scriptures that, in sharp contrast to most ancient literature, allows criticism of an honorable office, similarly to the criticism of King David’s infidelity.

Other references

Korah is referenced in the New Testament in Jude 11: “Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam‘s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion.” (NIV)

Korah is mentioned in the 1768 edition of the New England Primer. Here, as part of an alphabet, we read that “Proud Korah’s troop was swallowed up” which is a paraphrasing of Numbers 16:32.

Korah is also mentioned by Irenaeus in his anti-Gnostic work Adversus Haereses (Against Heresies), written in about 180. He criticized the notion that some Biblical villains were credited with obtaining their power from God. Specifically he wrote there are some who:

declare that Cain derived his being from the Power above, and acknowledge that Esau, Korah, the Sodomites, and all such persons, are related to themselves.

The Dead Sea Scrolls also provide additional details about Korah, though which Korah is not certain.

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