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.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Parshat Korach

The Innocent and the Guilty

The question: "why good things happen to bad people" is an ancient question and I will not try to solve this question, but this week's parsha touches upon it a number of times.

Just before God is about to vaporize the 250 would be priests, God warns Moshe and Aharon: "Separate yourselves from this congregation, and I will consume them in an instant" (Bemidbar 16:21). The implication is obvious, if Moshe and Aharon, innocent parties in the conflict, remain in the presence of the men, they too will die.

The same warning is given to the entire people before the earth swallowed Datan and Aviram: "get away from the tents of these wicked men, and do not touch anything of theirs, lest you perish because of all their sins" (ibid 26).

Again this warning was given when the people later rebelled: "Stand aside from this congregation, and I shall consume them in an instant" (ibid 17:10).

God clearly warns that when He punishes, He (or at least His messenger, in the words of the rabbis) does not discriminate between the innocent and the guilty.

Moshe was concerned about this state of affairs and even complains: "O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, if one man sins, shall You be angry with the whole congregation?" (ibid 16: 22).

However, this theology was not new. Avraham Avinu also had a problem with it. He argued with God saying that by destroying Sedom, "Will You even destroy the righteous with the wicked?" (Bereshit 18:23).

Indeed, we often see the righteous being killed for merely being in the wrong place at wrong time: e.g. Uzza (II Shmuel 6:6-7) and David's unborn child (ibid 12:14-19). In these cases too, David was concerned about the injustice of their deaths.

Moshe even urges Aharon to do something to stop a murderous plague. Aharon takes incense and "stood between the dead and the living, and the plague ceased" (Bemidbar 17:13).

Interestingly enough, God never offers excuses or answers these retorts. He seems to accept the righteousness of the arguments.

It is right to be disturbed about this state of affairs, just as Moshe, Aharon, Avraham and David were. However, more importantly, that like our ancestors, we must fight to help the innocent before the dye has been cast. Yet, just as David, fasted and prayed incessantly to save his unborn child, once the child had died, he removed his sackcloth, bathed and resumed his life, so too we must accept God's justice and continue with our lives once the decision has been executed.

According to these texts the question should not be "why do bad things happen to good people?" but rather: "how should humanity react in the face of human suffering?". The challenge should not be to question God about suffering but for us to do something about the suffering.

Last years' Sedra Short on Parshat Korach, entitled: "Aharon’s Blossoming Rod" appears at


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