Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Parshat Korach

Aharon’s Blossoming Rod

God had previously warned Moshe of the dangers of Him living amongst the people: “I will not go up in your midst since you are a stiff necked people, lest I destroy you on the way” (Shemot 33:3).

The people mourned and God relented. The Mishkan was built and God was living among the people. Israel was now suffering the consequences.

Firstly, no impurities could exist within the camp. If someone was impure they had to leave the camp. So too, if they were contaminated with tsaraat.

Yet now, they were dying. Without warning, fire is coming out from God and consuming the people. It began already in Parshat Bhalotecha. First the people on the edges of the camp were consumed for a minor offence (Bemidbar 11:1), while in this week’s parsha, Korach and the 250 chieftains (ibid 16:35), as well as other people in the subsequent plague (ibid 17:14) were also struck down. People were also swallowed by the earth (ibid 16:33), as well as by the quail (ibid 11:33). Miriam also sufferd immediate punishment for a singular indiscretion.

The execution was swift and even Moshe seems to be unaware of its imminence and its indiscriminate nature: “Stand aside from this congregation, and I shall consume them in an instant” (ibid 17:10). Had Moshe not stood aside, he would have suffered the same fate as those in the vicinity.

The people’s panic is therefore understandable:

“Behold, we are dying, we will perish, we are all lost! Whoever comes the closest to the Mishkan of the Lord dies! Have we been consigned to die?” (ibid 17:27-28).

The people are now fully aware of the dangers of God living amongst them. Therefore, measures are set into motion in order to protect them for unintentionally encroaching the sanctity of the sanctuary. Aharon and all the Levi’im are charged with protecting the Mishkan from encroachment. Guards are set up twenty-four hours a day and they are also given instructions on how to protect themselves (ibid Ch. 18).

Nevertheless, surely it would have been better for God to depart the camp altogether? Rather then set up a safety system, wouldn’t it have been better to remove the danger?

God remains in the camp, because as well as being a danger, God’s presence brings with it many opportunities.

“On the following day Moshe came to the Tent of Testimony, and behold, Aharon's rod for the house of Levi had blossomed! It gave forth blossoms, sprouted buds, and produced ripe almonds (ibid 17:23).

Until this point, Aharon’s staff was a dead piece of wood. It had been cut from a tree and fashioned into his insignia. It could no longer grow and certainly could it not sprout blossoms, bud and ripe fruit.

However, God’s presence restored it to life and allowed it to function once again, as a living tree.

While Israel needed protection from God’s presence, they could also be revitalized by it.

Today we are distanced, exiled from God. We pray for His return to us so that we can achieve the mission He has set us. Perhaps first, however, we should cleanse ourselves to be ready for Him, lest His presence destroys us.


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