Double Mitzvah – Korach

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Written by Rabbi Neil F. Blumofe. Neil is the Senior Rabbi of Congregation Agudas Achim in Austin, Texas. He holds Rabbinic Ordinations from both the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York and the Academy for Jewish Religion in Los Angeles. Neil is active in the greater Austin music community — producing and performing in the monthly “Jazz and the Art of” series for the public radio station (KUT) “Views and Brews” series at the historic Cactus Café, in Austin.

For more writing by Rabbi Blumofe, check out yesterday’s Sex with the Rabbi column.


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There is rebellion in the wilderness. A priest, Korach, together with Datan and Aviram and 250 others, stands before Moshe and Aharon to question both their authority and leadership. In response, Moshe challenges Korach to bring fire-offerings to God – declaiming that God will choose the one most holy. In the end, Korach and his household are swallowed up alive underground, to be covered over with earth, lost from among the congregation. In addition, a flame came from God to consume the other 250 followers. The fire pans that were left behind by Korach and his followers are hammered into sheets to cover the altar. The people complain against Moshe and Aharon and then a plague comes – destroying 14,700 – the plague is checked by the activity and work of Aharon, standing between the living and the dead. Next, Aharon’s staff is made to blossom, proving his worthiness before God. Even after this instance, the people continue to express their fears and doubts. The portion closes as God lays out the eternal function of the priests – to safeguard the charge of the holy and the altar.


What happens when a relationship becomes chilled and when trust and respect between two people diminish? What occurs when intimacy hibernates and the physical touch is used as a bludgeon or given grudgingly as an obligation? As we learn in this week’s Torah portion, Moses’s leadership is directly challenged by his cousin, Korach. Korach asserts that the entire camp is holy and can connect with God — and thus, according to this, it is unnecessary for Moses to lead in the ways that he has been doing. In response, Moses falls on his face, momentarily unable to answer this challenge.

At face value, Korach’s challenge seems reasonable. We crave individual experience and are loath to constrict ourselves to magnify another. We want to taste, to touch, and to communicate what we feel and not live through someone else’s sensations. We may resent another who has different values than our own and if we are in a relationship, as people change, it may be hard to adapt to shifting sensibilities or priorities. How do we compensate when priorities and tastes, change? How do we move past the fact that we are no longer cherished, loved, or even wanted?

And also, the accusation of Korach seems petulant and aimed at maximum damage. Our tradition describes Moses as the most humble man on the face of the earth (Numbers 12:3), so this aspersion by a relative must cut to the quick — and Moses reacts badly. After getting up off of the ground, Moses quickly and publicly challenges Korach to a God-off, to see who in fact enjoys preeminent status — Moses uses the power of his position to humble Korach and to prove that his cousin is in fact is a distant second, while Moses enjoys the choice pole position. When a relationship is threatened, Moses overcompensates and responds to this indictment of grandiose leadership with extravagant fury. Korach is not given another voice in the narrative — he succumbs to the drama concocted by Moses and as a result, is eaten alive.

When we are threatened by another with a grievous and even inappropriate charge, how do we respond? Do we lash out with all that we’ve got to reduce the fire of our momentary foe to embers? Do we go for the jugular, knowing the tenderness and the weaknesses of our former lover as we pitilessly destroy a plea for communication and a voice for support? In our own anxieties, do we negate one who was previously dear to us, causing great pain and casualty around us in order to prove a point, or to be too righteously right?

The relationship between Korach and Moses demonstrates its brokenness as gentle and generous communication is nowhere to be found. In an attempt to gain influence and to be heard, Korach gives a leading punch and smarting from the blow, Moses responds with a vicious pummeling that causes Korach and his followers to disappear. This Torah warns us about conditioning a callous heart, the beating of which measures scars and detachment in a relationship. We are asked to turn away from bitter words that cut deep and to instead examine our own role in a fraught relationship. We are asked to fall on our face, gathering strength to sort priorities and strategy for what’s next and at the same time, to gain the courage to find freedom from bleak circumstances without first reacting badly and scorching all who live around us.

A Duel, for the Sake of Heaven?: Sonny Rollins and Coleman Hawkins — “Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be?)” (1963)

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Neil F. Blumofe is the Senior Rabbi of Congregation Agudas Achim in Austin, Texas, (650+ families). He holds Rabbinic Ordinations from both the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York and the Academy for Jewish Religion in Los Angeles. Neil is active in the greater Austin music community, where he is known for his accomplishments, creations and instruction in the jazz genre.