The story of Korah’s rebellion is one of most textually complicated passages in the Torah. There are multiple players, all with a similar complaint, namely that Moshe and Aharon have solidified their leadership at the expense of others who were equally deserving or qualified. But these multiple players have diverse agendas, and sorting out who wants what in this story isn’t easy.
Nor is it easy to figure out the meaning of the very first word of the parashah. It begins with the words Vayikah Korah, which means “Korah took.” The problem is that the verb “take” always includes an object. What did Korah take? The run-on sentence includes the names of the co-litigants, and the next verse goes on to say that they rose up in challenge to Moshe’s leadership, but the text never identifies what Korah took. Had it meant to say that he assembled Datan, Aviram, and the other malcontents, it would have said Vayikah Korah et Datan va-Aviram…” Alas, that’s not what the Torah says.
One of the best-known explanations for this textual curiosity is that Korah took an object that was the subject of the most recent law to appear in the Torah. Last week’s portion ended with mitzvat tzitzit, the law about attaching fringes to one’s clothing. So, say the rabbis in Midrash Tanhuma, Korah took a garment–tallit–as a prop with which to challenge Moshe’s authority. But it’ll be clear that Korah wasn’t interested in a principled debate about halakhah; rather, he was quoting Scripture for his purposes.
On Shabbat morning, we will look at this story, and consider the ramifications of the misuse of sacred texts for troubling purposes.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,