Korach, a prestigious and wealthy member of the Levite tribe, felt snubbed when a younger cousin was appointed as the prince of his group of Levites. His personal gripe led him to speak out against our leader Moshe. He doubted the authenticity of Moshe’s divinely appointed leadership, and accused Moshe of nepotism by giving his brother Aaron the High Priesthood. Korach claimed that since the entire nation was present at Mount Sinai they all became holy and were all worthy to serve as Kohanim/priests in the Temple – not only Aaron and his descendants.
Moshe tried his best to respectfully reason with Korach, however Korach got so wrapped up in his rhetoric he refused to even acknowledge Moshe.
Moshe felt that Korach was a threat to his Divine appointment as leader and would cast doubt on the validity of Torah coming from G-d. So Moshe gave Korach and his followers an ultimatum to prove their position. He told them that they could offer an incense offering reserved for the high priest at the same time as Aaron, and whomever G-d chooses would be the true High Priest. Moshe added, those who were not chosen would be destroyed. He also said that the followers of Korach would be swallowed up in the ground in a miraculous way.
This warning did not deter Korach and his followers. They offered the incense offering and a fire came down from Heaven consuming the offerings along with those who offered incense. Korach’s followers and family were swallowed by the ground. Aaron remained alive. Thus G-d publicly proved that Aaron was His true appointee as High Priest.
This showdown proved that Aaron and his descendants were the priests for the nation. G-d also instructed that two artifacts be placed in the Temple as a testament that no one ever dare dispute the Kohanim’s Divine appointment to serve in the Temple.
The first was that G-d commanded that the copper pans on which Korach and his followers offered the incense should be formed as an ornament around the large copper Altar of the Temple.
Secondly, G-d had each of the Tribal heads present Moshe with a wooden staff engraved with their tribal name. Aaron also submitted a staff with his name on it. Moshe told them that he will place the staffs in front of the Ark of Testimony in the Temple and whichever Tribal staff will sprout will prove that they are chosen to serve in the Temple. Sure enough, the next morning Moshe showed them that Aaron’s staff sprouted almonds.
When Moshe returned each of the staffs to the Tribal heads, G-d instructed him to place Aaron’s sprouted staff in the Holy of Holies – so that it would be there as everlasting proof that only he and his descendants were chosen as the Kohanim to serve in the Temple.
Built into each of us is a voice called the Yaitzer Hara – the evil inclination – that tugs at us and presents doubts to our minds. Our responsibility is to be aware of it, address it and clarify it, so that it does not hold us captive, for if left unchecked it may lead one to deny our strong ironclad Mesorah – tradition – just like Korach did.
A non-Jew approached the great Chasam Sofer, Rabbi Moshe Sofer o.b.m. and claimed that the Biblical account of Korach being swallowed in the earth was not miraculous, rather it was a natural earthquake.
The Chasam Sofer answered the man by quoting Nachmanides who points out that the Torah tells us that after Korach was swallowed in the earth, “The earth returned to its normal state.” The Chasam Sofer asked the man, ”In the aftermath of any earthquake and its path of devastation and ruin, does it ever naturally return to its normal state?”
Recently, a giant of man, Rabbi Nota Greenblatt passed away. Rabbi Greenblatt lived in Memphis and traveled the country extensively as a Mohel, Shochet, Mashgiach and was skilled in writing and procuring Gitten – Jewish divorces. Over the past 30 years we hosted Rabbi Greenblatt when his skills were needed locally. He was a fascinating man – sharp and brilliant. He would leave no stone unturned, even using his own finances to make sure that any woman needing a Get would receive it. He would share with us some fascinating stories. One stands out. It was Erev Yom Kippur and a man finally agreed to give a Get to his wife. The rabbi wrote the Get and the proceedings were completed right before Yom Kippur. He said that he had enough time to eat an apple before the fast began. He added with tears in his eyes, “it was the best Yom Kippur fast I had.”
He traveled extensively and Jews and non-Jews would engage him in conversation. They would ask him questions on their minds, to clarify or dispel the ‘voices’ within. A person approached him and cynically asked him, “What difference does it make if I flick a switch on Shabbos? I’m not doing much.” Rabbi Greenblatt with a twinkle in his eye responded, “You know, in Sing Sing prison they are electrocuting death row inmates left and right. Ask the person flicking the switch if it is not doing much! The Rabbi then explained that although the action appears insignificant, it is the result of the action that creates an offense to the Shabbos laws.”