Korach or Korah (קרח — Hebrew for the name "Korah,” which in turn means “baldness, ice, hail, or frost,” the second word, and the first distinctive word, in the parshah) is the 38th weekly Torah portion (parshah) in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading and the fifth in the book of Numbers. It constitutes Numbers 16:1–18:32. Jews in the Diaspora generally read it in June or early July.
The Levite Korah son of Izhar joined with the Reubenites Dathan and Abiram sons of Eliab and On son of Peleth and 250 chieftains of the Israelite community to rise up against Moses. (Numbers 16:1–2.) Moses told Korah and his band to take their fire pans and put fire and incense on them before God. (Numbers 16:6–7.) Moses sent for Dathan and Abiram, but they refused to come. (Numbers 16:12.) The next day, Korah and his band took their fire pans and gathered the whole community against Moses and Aaron at the entrance of the Tabernacle. (Numbers 16:18–19.) The Presence of the Lord appeared to the whole community, and God told Moses and Aaron to stand back so that God could annihilate the others. (Numbers 16:20–21.) Moses and Aaron fell on their faces and implored God not to punish the whole community. (Numbers 16:22.) God told Moses to instruct the community to move away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, and they did so, while Dathan, Abiram, and their families stood at the entrance of their tents. (Numbers 16:23–27.) Moses told the Israelites that if these men were to die of natural causes, then God did not send Moses, but if God caused the earth to swallow them up, then these men had spurned God. (Numbers 16:28–30.) Just as Moses finished speaking, the earth opened and swallowed them, their households, and all Korah’s people, and the Israelites fled in terror. (Numbers 16:31–34.)
And a fire consumed the 250 men offering the incense. (Numbers 16:35.) God told Moses to order Eleazar the priest to remove the fire pans — as they had become sacred — and have them made into plating for the altar to remind the Israelites that no one other than Aaron’s offspring should presume to offer incense to God. (Numbers 17:1–5.)
A plague upon rebelsEdit
The next day, the whole Israelite community railed against Moses and Aaron for bringing death upon God’s people. (Numbers 17:6.) A cloud covered the Tabernacle and the God’s Presence appeared. (Numbers 17:6.) God told Moses to remove himself and Aaron from the community, so that God might annihilate them, and they fell on their faces. (Numbers 17:8–10.) Moses told Aaron to take the fire pan, put fire from the altar and incense on it, and take it to the community to make expiation for them and to stop a plague that had begun, and Aaron did so. (Numbers 17:11–12.) Aaron stood between the dead and the living and halted the plague, but not before 14,700 had died. (Numbers 17:13–14.)
Aaron’s budding staffEdit
God told Moses to collect a staff from the chieftain of each of the 12 tribes, inscribe each man’s name on his staff, inscribe Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi, and deposit the staffs in the Tent of Meeting. (Numbers 17:16–19.) The next day, Moses entered the Tent and Aaron’s staff had sprouted, blossomed, and borne almonds. (Numbers 17:23.) God instructed Moses to put Aaron’s staff before the Ark of the Covenant to be kept as a lesson to rebels to end their mutterings against God. (Numbers 17:25.) But the Israelites cried to Moses, “We are doomed to perish!” (Numbers 17:27–28.)
Duties of priests and LevitesEdit
God assigned the Levites to Aaron to aid in the duties of the Tent of Meeting. (Numbers 18:2–6.) God prohibited any outsider from intruding on the priests as they discharged the duties connected with the Shrine, on pain of death. (Numbers 18:7.) And God gave Aaron and the priests all the sacred donations and first fruits as a perquisite for all time for them and their families to eat. (Numbers 18:8–13.) And God gave them the oil, wine, grain, and money that the Israelites brought. (Numbers 18:12–16.) But God told Aaron that the priests would have no territorial share among the Israelites, as God was their portion and their share. (Numbers 18:20.) God gave the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their share in return for the services of the Tent of Meeting, but they too would have no territorial share among the Israelites. (Numbers 18:21–24.) God told Moses to instruct the Levites to set aside one-tenth of the tithes they received as a gift to God. (Numbers 18:26–29.)
In classical rabbinic interpretationEdit
Numbers chapter 16Edit
A midrash taught that Korah took issue with Moses in Numbers 16:1 because Moses had (as Numbers 3:30 reports) appointed Elizaphan the son of Uzziel as prince of the Kohathites, and Korah was (as Exodus 6:21 reports) son of Uzziel's older brother Izhar, and thus had a claim to leadership prior to Elizaphan. (Midrash Tanhuma Korah 1.)
Resh Lakish interpreted the words “Korah . . . took” in Numbers 16:1 to teach that Korah took a bad bargain for himself. As the three Hebrew consonants that spell Korah’s name also spell the Hebrew word for “bald” (kereach), the Gemara deduced that he was called Korah because he caused a bald spot to be formed among the Israelites when the earth swallowed his followers. As the name Izhar in Numbers 16:1 derived from the same Hebrew root as the word “noon” (tzohorayim), the Gemara deduced from “son of Izhar” that Korah was a son who brought upon himself anger hot as the noon sun. As the name Kohath in Numbers 16:1 derived from the same Hebrew root as the word for “set on edge” (hikah), the Gemara deduced from “son of Kohath” that Korah was a son who set his ancestors’ teeth on edge. The Gemara deduced from the words “son of Levi” in Numbers 16:1 that Korah was a son who was escorted to Gehenna. The Gemara asked why Numbers 16:1 did not say “the son of Jacob,” and Rabbi Samuel bar Isaac answered that Jacob had prayed not to be listed amongst Korah's ancestors in Genesis 49:6, where it is written, “Let my soul not come into their council; unto their assembly let my glory not be united.” “Let my soul not come into their council” referred to the spies, and “unto their assembly let my glory not be united” referred to Korah’s assembly. As the name Dathan in Numbers 16:1 derived from the same Hebrew root as the word “law” (dath), the Gemara deduced from Dathan’s name that he violated God’s law. The Gemara related the name Abiram in Numbers 16:1 to the Hebrew word for “strengthened” (iber) and deduced from Abiram’s name that he stoutly refused to repent. The Gemara related the name On in Numbers 16:1 to the Hebrew word for “mourning” (aninut) and deduced from On’s name that he sat in lamentations. The Gemara related the name Peleth in Numbers 16:1 to the Hebrew word for “miracles” (pelaot) and deduced from Peleth’s name that God performed wonders for him. And as the name Reuben derived from the Hebrew words “see” (reu) and “understand” (mavin), the Gemara deduced from the reference to On as a “son of Reuben” in Numbers 16:1that On was a son who saw and understood. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 109b.)
Numbers 16:1–2 reports that the Reubenite On son of Peleth joined Korah’s conspiracy, but the text does not mention On again. Rab explained that On’s wife saved him, arguing to him that no matter whether Moses or Korah prevailed, On would remain just a disciple. On replied that he had sworn to participate. So On’s wife got him drunk with wine, and laid him down in their tent. Then she sat at the entrance of their tent and loosened her hair, so that whoever came to summon him saw her and retreated at the sight of her immodestly loosened hair. The Gemara taught that Proverbs 14:1 refers to On’s wife when it says: “Every wise woman builds her house.” (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 109b–10a.)
The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot deduced that the controversy of Korah and his followers was not for the sake of Heaven, and thus was destined not to result in permanent change. The Mishnah contrasted Korah’s argument to those between Hillel and Shammai, which the Mishnah taught were controversies for the sake of Heaven, destined to result in something permanent. (Mishnah Avot 5:17.)
Rav Adda bar Abahah taught that a person praying alone does not say the Sanctification (Kedushah) prayer (which includes the words from Isaiah 6:3: קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת; מְלֹא כָל-הָאָרֶץ, כְּבוֹדוֹ, Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh, Adonai Tz'vaot melo kol haaretz kevodo, “Holy, Holy, Holy, the Lord of Hosts, the entire world is filled with God’s Glory”), because Leviticus 22:32 says: “I will be hallowed among the children of Israel,” and thus sanctification requires ten people (a minyan). Rabinai the brother of Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba taught that we derive this by drawing an analogy between the two occurrences of the word “among” (תּוֹךְ, toch) in Leviticus 22:32 (“I will be hallowed among the children of Israel”) and in Numbers 16:21, in which God tells Moses and Aaron: “Separate yourselves from among this congregation,” referring to Korah and his followers. Just as Numbers 16:21, which refers to a congregation, implies a number of at least ten, so Leviticus 22:32 implies at least ten. (Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 21b.)
The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot taught that the opening of the earth’s mouth in Numbers 16:32 was one of ten miracles that God created at the end of the first week of creation at the eve of the Sabbath at twilight. (Mishnah Avot 5:6.)
Rabbi Akiba interpreted Numbers 16:33 to teach that Korah’s assembly will have no portion in the world to come, as the words “the earth closed upon them” reported that they died in this world, and the words “they perished from among the assembly” implied that they died in the next world, as well. But Rabbi Eliezer disagreed, reading 1 Samuel 2:6 to speak of Korah’s assembly when it said: “The Lord kills, and makes alive; He brings down to the grave, and brings up.” The Gemara cited a Tanna who concurred with Rabbi Eliezer’s position: Rabbi Judah ben Bathyra likened Korah’s assembly to a lost article, which one seeks, as Psalm 119:176 said: “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant.” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:3; Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 108a, 109b.)
Numbers chapter 17Edit
A Baraita taught that Josiah hid the Ark, the bottle containing the manna (see Exodus 16:33–34), Aaron’s staff with its almonds and blossoms (see Numbers 17:25), and the chest that the Philistines sent as a gift (see 1 Samuel 6:8), because Josiah read in Deuteronomy 28:36: “The Lord will bring you, and your king whom you shall set over you, to a nation that you have not known.” Therefore he hid these things, as 2 Chronicles 35:3 reports: “And he said to the Levites, that taught all Israel, that were holy to the Lord: ‘Put the holy ark into the house that Solomon, the son of David, King of Israel built. There shall no more be a burden upon your shoulders now.’” (Babylonian Talmud Yoma 52b.)
Numbers chapter 18Edit
A non-Jew asked Shammai to convert him to Judaism on condition that Shammai appoint him High Priest. Shammai pushed him away with a builder’s ruler. The non-Jew then went to Hillel, who converted him. The convert then read Torah, and when he came to the injunction of Numbers 1:51, 3:10, and 18:7 that “the common man who draws near shall be put to death,” he asked Hillel to whom the injunction applied. Hillel answered that it applied even to David, King of Israel, who had not been a priest. Thereupon the convert reasoned a fortiori that if the injunction applied to all (non-priestly) Israelites, whom in Exodus 4:22 God had called “my firstborn,” how much more so would the injunction apply to a mere convert, who came among the Israelites with just his staff and bag. Then the convert returned to Shammai, quoted the injunction, and remarked on how absurd it had been for him to ask Shammai to appoint him High Priest. (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 31a.)
Tractate Terumot in the Mishnah, Tosefta, and Jerusalem Talmud interpreted the laws of the portion of the crop that was to be given to the priests in Numbers 18:8–13. (Mishnah Terumot 1:1–11:10; Tosefta Terumot 1:1–10:18; Jerusalem Talmud Terumot 1a–.)
Tractate Bikkurim in the Mishnah, Tosefta, and Jerusalem Talmud interpreted the laws of the first fruits in Exodus 23:19, Numbers 18:13, and Deuteronomy 12:17–18 and 26:1–11. (Mishnah Bikkurim 1:1–3:12; Tosefta Bikkurim 1:1–2:16; Jerusalem Talmud Bikkurim 1a–26b.)
Tractate Demai in the Mishnah, Tosefta, and Jerusalem Talmud, interpreted the laws related to produce where one is not sure if it has been properly tithed in accordance with Numbers 18:21–28. (Mishnah Demai 1:1–7:8; Tosefta Demai 1:1–8:24; Jerusalem Talmud Demai 1a–.)
- To guard the Temple area (Numbers 18:2)
- No Levite must do another's work of either a Kohen or a Levite (Numbers 18:3)
- One who is not a Kohen must not serve in the sanctuary (Numbers 18:4)
- Not to leave the Temple unguarded (Numbers 18:5)
- To redeem the firstborn sons and give the money to a Kohen (Numbers 18:15)
- Not to redeem the firstborn of a kosher domestic animal (Numbers 18:17)
- The Levites must work in the Temple (Numbers 18:23)
- To set aside a tithe each planting year and give it to a Levite (Numbers 18:24)
- The Levite must set aside a tenth of his tithe (Numbers 18:26)
The parshah has parallels or is discussed in these sources:
- Exodus 13:1–2 (firstborn); 13:12–13 (firstborn); 22:28–29 (firstborn).
- Numbers 3:11–13 (firstborn); 26:9–11 (Korach, Dathan, Abiram).
- Deuteronomy 15:19–23 (firstborn).
- 1 Samuel 12:3 (not having taken a donkey).
- Jeremiah 31:8 (firstborn).
- Ezekiel 7:10 (rod blossomed); 8:9–12 (elders burning incense).
- Psalms 16:5 (God as inheritance); 55:16 (go down alive into the nether-world); 105:26 (Moses as God’s chosen); 106:16–18, 29–30 (rebellion and earth swallowing; plague as God’s punishment).
- Pseudo-Philo 16:1–17:4.
- Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 4:2:1–4, 3:1–4, 4:1–2, 4. Circa 93–94. Reprinted in, e.g., The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged, New Updated Edition. Translated by William Whiston, 102–07. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Pub., 1987. ISBN 0-913573-86-8.
- Jude 1:11.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece, 2:31:10. Greece, 2nd Century C.E. (After Heracles leaned his club against the image of Hermes, the club took root and grew.).
- Qur'an: 28:76–82; 29:39; 40:24–25. (In the Qur'an, Korah is named Qarun or Qaaroon; see Biblical narratives and the Qur'an.)
- Mishnah: Demai 1:1–7:8; Terumot 1:1–11:10; Challah 1:3; 4:9; Bikkurim 1:1–3:12; Chagigah 1:4; Sanhedrin 9:6; 10:3; Avot 5:6, 17; Bekhorot 8:8. Land of Israel, circa 200 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., The Mishnah: A New Translation. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 93–120, 148, 157, 329, 604–05, 686, 688, 806. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. ISBN 0-300-05022-4.
- Tosefta: Demai 1:1–8:24; Terumot 1:1–10:18; Maaser Sheni 3:11; Challah 2:7, 9; Shabbat 15:7; Chagigah 3:19; Sotah 7:4; Sanhedrin 13:9; Bekhorot 1:5. Land of Israel, circa 300 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., The Tosefta: Translated from the Hebrew, with a New Introduction. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 1:77–202, 313, 339, 414, 677, 861; 2:1190, 1469. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Pub., 2002. ISBN 1-56563-642-2.
- Jerusalem Talmud: Demai 1a–; Terumot 1a–; Maaser Sheni 4a, 5a, 53b–54a; Challah 9b, 23b, 29a, 33a; Orlah 18a, 20a; Bikkurim 1a–26b. Land of Israel, circa 400 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., Talmud Yerushalmi. Edited by Chaim Malinowitz, Yisroel Simcha Schorr, and Mordechai Marcus, vols. 10–12. Brooklyn: Mesorah Pubs., 2006–2009.
- Babylonian Talmud: Berakhot 21b, 45a, 47a–b; Shabbat 25a, 26a, 89a, 127b, 135b; Eruvin 19a, 31b; Pesachim 23a, 34a, 35b, 54a, 64b, 73a, 121b; Yoma 24a, 27a, 44a, 45b, 52b, 74b; Sukkah 9a; Beitzah 3b, 12b–13b; Rosh Hashanah 12b; Megillah 9b, 23b; Moed Katan 5a–b, 12a, 13a, 16a, 18b, 28a; Chagigah 7b, 10b, 11b; Yevamot 74a, 85b–86b, 89b, 99b; Ketubot 8b, 72a, 102a; Nedarim 7b, 12b, 18b, 38a, 39b, 64b; Nazir 4b; Sotah 2a, 13b, 15a; Gittin 11b, 23b, 25a, 30b, 52a; Kiddushin 11b, 17a, 29a, 46b, 52b–53a; Bava Kamma 11b, 13a, 67a, 69b, 78a, 79a, 80a, 110b, 114a, 115b; Bava Metzia 6b, 22a, 56a, 71b, 88b, 102b; Bava Batra 74a, 84b, 112a, 118b, 143a; Sanhedrin 17a, 37b, 52a–b, 74b, 82b–84a, 90b, 108a, 109b–10a; Makkot 4a, 12a, 13a, 14b, 17a–b, 19a–b, 23b; Shevuot 4b, 17b, 39a; Avodah Zarah 15a, 24b; Horayot 12a; Zevachim 16a, 28a, 32a, 37a, 44b–45a, 49b, 57a, 60b, 63a, 73a, 81a, 88b, 91a, 97b, 102b; Menachot 9a, 19b, 21b, 23a, 37a, 54b, 58a, 73a, 77b, 83a, 84b, 99a; Chullin 68a, 99a, 120b, 130a, 131a–32b, 133b, 134b, 135b–36a; Bekhorot 3b–4b, 5b, 6b–7a, 10b, 11b–12b, 17a, 26b, 27b, 31b–33a, 34a, 47b, 49a, 50a, 51a–b, 53b, 54b, 56b, 58b–59a, 60a; Arakhin 4a, 11b, 16a, 28b–29a; Temurah 3a, 4b–5b, 8a, 21a–b, 24a; Keritot 4a, 5b; Meilah 8b; Tamid 26b; Niddah 26a, 29a. Babylonia, 6th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Talmud Bavli. Edited by Yisroel Simcha Schorr, Chaim Malinowitz, and Mordechai Marcus, 72 vols. Brooklyn: Mesorah Pubs., 2006.
- Avot of Rabbi Natan, 36:3. Circa 700–900 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan. Translated by Judah Goldin, 149. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1955. ISBN 0-300-00497-4. The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan: An Analytical Translation and Explanation. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 217. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986. ISBN 1-55540-073-6.
- Tanna Devei Eliyahu. Seder Eliyyahu Rabbah 67, 77, 83, 106, 117. 10th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Tanna Debe Eliyyahu: The Lore of the School of Elijah. Translated by William G. Braude and Israel J. Kapstein, 150, 172, 183, 233, 256. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1981. ISBN 0-8276-0634-6.
- Rashi. Commentary. Numbers 16–18. Troyes, France, late 11th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Rashi. The Torah: With Rashi’s Commentary Translated, Annotated, and Elucidated. Translated and annotated by Yisrael Isser Zvi Herczeg, 4:189–224. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1997. ISBN 0-89906-029-3.
- Numbers Rabbah 18:1–23. 12th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Midrash Rabbah: Numbers. Translated by Judah J. Slotki. London: Soncino Press, 1939. ISBN 0-900689-38-2.
- Maimonides. Mishneh Torah, Structure. Cairo, Egypt, 1170–1180.
- Zohar 3:176a–178b. Spain, late 13th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., The Zohar. Translated by Harry Sperling and Maurice Simon. 5 vols. London: Soncino Press, 1934.
- Thomas Hobbes. Leviathan, 3:38, 40, 42. England, 1651. Reprint edited by C. B. Macpherson, 485–86, 505, 563–64. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Classics, 1982. ISBN 0140431950.
- Samson Raphael Hirsch. Horeb: A Philosophy of Jewish Laws and Observances. Translated by Isidore Grunfeld, 189–95, 261–65. London: Soncino Press, 1962. Reprinted 2002 ISBN 0-900689-40-4. Originally published as Horeb, Versuche über Jissroel’s Pflichten in der Zerstreuung. Germany, 1837.
- Thomas Mann. Joseph and His Brothers. Translated by John E. Woods, 55. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. ISBN 1-4000-4001-9. Originally published as Joseph und seine Brüder. Stockholm: Bermann-Fischer Verlag, 1943.
- A. M. Klein. “Candle Lights.” Canada, 1944. Reprinted in The Collected Poems of A.M. Klein, 13. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1974. ISBN 0-07-077625-3.
- Jacob Milgrom. “First fruits, OT.” In The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Supp. vol., 336–37. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1976. ISBN 0-687-19269-2.
- Jacob Milgrom. The JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation, 129–57, 414–36. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1990. ISBN 0-8276-0329-0.
- Baruch A. Levine. Numbers 1–20, 4:403–53. New York: Anchor Bible, 1993. ISBN 0-385-15651-0.
- Gerald Skolnik. “Should There Be a Special Ceremony in Recognition of a First-Born Female Child?” New York: Rabbinical Assembly, 1993. YD 305:1.1993. Reprinted in Responsa: 1991–2000: The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative Movement. Edited by Kassel Abelson and David J. Fine, 163–65 New York: Rabbinical Assembly, 2002. ISBN 0-916219-19-4.
- Mary Douglas. In the Wilderness: The Doctrine of Defilement in the Book of Numbers, 40, 59, 84, 103, 110–12, 122–23, 125, 130–33, 138, 140, 145, 147, 150, 194–95, 203, 211, 246. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993. Reprinted 2004. ISBN 0-19-924541-X.
- Elie Wiesel. “Korah.” Bible Review 16 (3) (June 2000): 12–15.