Shabbat Korah 5783

This week’s Torah portion is named for a bad guy. It’s not the only time this happens; just a week from now Balak gets his name on synagogue marquises all over the world. This week’s parshah is named for Korah, instigator of a major rebellion against Moshe’s leadership. Isn’t it odd that our tradition would put a villain’s name in neon lights?
To appreciate this phenomenon, let’s spend some time with one of the parshah’s other main characters, or rather one of its signature props: the ketoret, the incense. After hearing his tribe-of-Levi cousin Korah’s challenge, Moshe offers a challenge of his own:
“Do this, Korah and all your band, take fire pans, and tomorrow put fire in them and lay incense on them before the LORD. Then the candidate whom the LORD chooses, he shall be the holy one” (Numbers 16-6-7). At the very end of the chapter, the 250 incense pretenders get zapped by divine fire. Guess that answers Moshe’s question of who is the holy one who’s licensed to carry fire pans.
But if we keep reading the parshah, we find that ketoret in the right hands is not destructive but in fact an instrument of salvation. Aharon uses it to bring an end to a devastating plague. What is so special about incense that it can both kill and rescue? On Shabbat morning, we’ll learn more about the incense, and in so doing we’ll better understand why Korah gets celebrated every year with a Torah portion bearing his name.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise
Candle lighting: 8:12 PM
Torah Reading: Numbers 16:1-18:32
Haftarah: I Samuel 11:14-12:22