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 18, 2009

Parshat Korach

Gouging Out the Eyes

In this week's parsha, Moshe faces a number of rebellions: From Korach and his fellow Levites; from 250 community leaders that want to be priests (some commentators suggest that they were first-borns who had lost the priesthood); from Datan and Aviram: and finally, from the people after the first three groups had been killed.

I want to focus on one part of Datan and Aviram's rebellion. Their cause is not the same as Korachs. They do not seek the priesthood, they simply want a new leader. They claim that Moshe's leadership has failed: "Is it not enough that you have brought us out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the desert, that you should also exercise authority over us?" (Bemidbar 16:13).

Moshe was charged with taking Israel to the Promised Land. As a result of the Spies, that was to going to happen and so, in their eyes, Moshe had lost his right to lead. Therefore, unlike Korach and his followers who rebel against both Moshe and Aharon, Datan and Aviram rebel only against Moshe. This is also why there are two separate punishments. The seekers of priesthood are burnt by God's fire, while the seekers of new leadership are swallowed up by the ground.

Moshe tries to negotiate with datan and Aviram, but they respond: "Even if you gouge out the eyes of those men, we will not go up" (ibid 14).

At first glance, they are simply saying if Moshe tortures them they still won't lisen to him. However, if we examine other uses of this expression, we can see that there was a little more to what they were saying.

The first example is that of Shimshon (Samson). Sefer Shoftim describes how he had caused havoc amongst the Philistines. He was able to walk and sleep in their midst but they were powerless over him. However, after he is betrayed by Delilah, his Philistine lover, he becomes powerless. "The Philistines seized him, and gouged out his eyes" (Shoftim 16:21). They then out him to work and "and he did grind in the prison house" (ibid).

The second case is with the inhabitants of Yavesh Gilad, as described in Sefer Shmuel. Yvesh Gilad was an Israelite outpost on the east bank of the Jordan River, far from the main Israelite populace. They were under siege by Nachash, king of Ammon. They tried to negotiate a surrender. Nachash gave them his surrender terms: "On this (condition) will I make a treaty with you, by gouging out the right eye of every one of you" (I Shmuel 11:2).

In both these cases we see that in the ancient Near East, rebellious slaves had their eyes gouged out. By doing so, they show their complete and utter servitude to their new master.

Therefore Datan and Aviram show their total contempt to Moshe, saying that whatever he does, even if he gouges out their eyes forcing them to be subservient, they still will never be obedient to him and will never accept his authority.

Under these conditions we can that Moshe was extremely distressed and could not understand their response as he had never even "taken a donkey from a single one of them, and I have not harmed a single one of them" (Bemidbar 16:15).

He had never been an autocratic ruler, when hey showed their complete contempt he could not continue attempt any more negotiation but asked God for them to fail.

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Korach, entitled: "One Mutiny or Two or Even Three?" appears

Another Sedra Short on Parshat Korach, entitled: "The Innocent and the Guilty" appears at

A further Sedra Short on Parshat Korach, entitled: "Aharon’s Blossoming Rod" appears at

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Anonymous Hebrew Student said...

Thanks for this post. I've read this passage in Hebrew many times, but hadn't seen the links with the other passages before.

7:02 PM  

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