Korach, Datan and Aviram, and 250 leaders of Israel rebel against the authority of Moshe and Aharon. The rebellion results in their being swallowed by the earth. Many resent their death and blame Moshe. G-d's "anger" is manifest by a plague that besets the nation, and many thousands perish. Moshe intercedes once again for the people. He instructs Aharon to atone for them and the plague stops. Then G-d commands that staffs, each inscribed with the name of one of the tribes, be placed in the Mishkan. In the morning the staff of Levi, bearing Aharon's name, sprouts, buds, blossoms and yields ripe almonds. This provides Divine confirmation that Levi's tribe is chosen for priesthood and verifies Aharon's position as Kohen Gadol, High Priest. The specific duties of the levi'im and kohanim are stated. The kohanim were not to be landowners, but were to receive their sustenance from the tithes and other mandated gifts brought by the people. Also taught in this week's Parsha are laws of the first fruits, redemption of the firstborn, and other offerings.
“…all of them are holy… Why do you exalt yourself over the congregation of G-d?” (16:3)
Times were tough in the “tzena” – the period of rationing that followed the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. A black market for luxury goods flourished. Of course, “luxury” is an infinitely elastic term; back in those days even a can of sardines would vie with a pair of silk stockings or perfume as a “luxury”.
Shmerel had such a can of sardines and he sold it to Beryl for a tidy profit. Beryl sold it to Bunim giving the price a healthy bump along the way. Bunim sold it on to Mendy, and Mendy to Chatzkel — with more hefty dividends on the investment.
Not wanting to consume his rare prize immediately, Chatzkel placed his can of sardines on the shelf as a trophy for all to see. After a couple of weeks, however, he could bear it no longer. He brought down the can of sardines and proceeded to open it with great ceremony.
The smell that emanated from the can defies description. The fish inside smelled like that they had been in there since the Flood – if not earlier.
Furious, Chatzkel rushed over to Mendy’s house.
“Mendy! Mendy! Those sardines you sold me! They were rotten!”
“Chatzkel? You opened the can?”
“Well of course I opened the can!”
“But Chatzkele, didn’t you know? Those sardines weren’t for eating, they were for selling!”
An idea can be like fish. If people don’t open it up and examine it, you can probably sell it down the line.
Thus it was with Korach.
Korach’s resentment against Moshe began either when Aharon was made Kohen Gadol, or when Elizafan ben Uziel, their cousin, was made head of the family of Kahat – and thus Korach’s superior. Korach felt that Elizafan had usurped his rightful place as head of the family.
At the time, Korach didn’t dare criticize Moshe, beloved as he was by the Jewish People. But after the debacle of the spies and the ensuing sentence that the entire generation should die in the desert, Moshe’s popularity “ratings” had slipped considerably.
Korach took advantage of this and sold the Jewish People an idea — that Moshe had no right to be their leader. This was plausible enough if you listened to Korach’s rhetoric, but it was as “rotten” as a can of ancient sardines if you bothered to open up the argument and examine it with your nose.