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.
The Object Of Desire
“And Korach…took” (16:1)
“And G-d said ‘Let Us make man in Our image.' ” (Bereshet 1:26)
Artists throughout the ages have taken this verse and stood it on its head: Man has ‘created’ G-d in his image. The G-d of Michelangelo, Donatello and others appears as no more than a venerable grandfather, complete with a long white beard and robes. Save for a few thunderbolts, their G-d looks like an Italian zeide in a costume.
What does the Torah mean when it says that G-d created man “in His image”?
When G-d created man, He gave him two powers: the power of giving and the power of taking. The power to give is the elevated quality that imitates G-d, for G-d is the ultimate Giver. There is nothing you can give Him in return since He already owns everything. Man is created specifically to imitate G-d by being a giver.
The desire to take is the antithesis of G-d’s purpose in creating man. Furthermore, taking is not about amassing a vast fortune, or a fleet of Porsches; it’s not a matter of “He who dies with the most toys wins.” In truth, the desire to take has nothing to do with toys, trophies or physical objects at all.
The desire to take is the dark side of the power to give. It is the anti-world of giving, its negative doppelganger. The desire to take is never satisfied by the object of its desire. It’s amazing how quickly the sheen wears off a pristine new computer, or a new car, or a new wife (if that’s your view of marriage). For once the object becomes our possession it ceases to interest us, the desire is gone, and we focus on something else. Why?
The desire to take is never satisfied by the object of our desire because the desire to take is really the desire to enlarge ourselves, to make ourselves more, to take up more real estate in reality – to exist more.
And that desire is insatiable.
All physical desires have their limits – there’s just so much pâté de foie gras you can consume, but the desire to be more, the dark side of giving, is insatiable.
This week’s Torah reading starts with the following sentence, “And Korach (the son of Yitzhar, the son of Kohat, the son of Levi) together with Datan and Aviram (the sons of Eliav) and On ben Pelet (sons of Reuven), took.” There is no object in this sentence. It just says that “Korach …took…” without revealing what or whom he took. What, then, is the object of the sentence?
What did Korach take?
Korach “took” the entire sad episode that followed: his rebellion and demise are the object of the first sentence of the weekly portion.
Korach was the quintessential taker. What he wanted was more, more and more.
Korach wanted to devour the world.
And thus it was apt that the earth opened its mouth and devoured him.
- Sources: Based on Rabbi E. E. Dessler’s Kuntras HaChessed and Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch