Korah and His Associates
Korah, one of the rich leaders of the Levites, and a cousin of Moses and Aaron, felt that he had been slighted and overlooked in the distribution of the highest priestly honors and leadership. He envied Moses and Aaron, and also his cousin Elzaphan, who had been put in charge of the Levites, after Aaron's family had become elevated to the rank of Kohanim (Priests). Realizing that despite his riches and influence he alone could do very little to shake the people's faith and confidence in Moses and Aaron, Korah looked for associates in his campaign against them.
Korah went to the people of the tribe of Reuben, his neighbors in the camping order. Being daily in close contact with them, Korah easily swayed the opinions of their leaders and drew them into his conspiracy. Amongst the Reubenites were two men, Dathan and Abiram, who since their early days in Egypt had been trouble-makers and the ringleaders of disaffection and rebellion. They were the first to rally to the party of Korah, and they were his most eager agents among their tribesmen. Their experienced and clever campaigning, aided by Korah's riches, influence, and knowledge, induced as many as 250 respected leaders of the Jewish camp to join the rebellion. They now felt bold enough to go out into the open and speak up against Moses' leadership of the people. Adopting the mantle of piety and justice, and pretending to be a champion of his people, Korah accused Moses and Aaron of imposing their leadership upon the community. "You take too much upon yourselves, for the entire congregation are all holy, and the Lord is in their midst. So why do raise yourselves above the Lord's assembly?" said Korah (Numbers 16:3) and his men to Moses and Aaron.
Moses Admonishes the Rebels
When Moses heard of the public accusations made against him by members of the tribe of Levi and their associates, he prayed to G‑d for guidance in his new tribulation. Then he addressed himself to Korah and his party, and told them to prepare themselves for the next day, when G‑d would show whom He considered worthy to serve Him as priests. All the contestants were to take censers and offer incense before G‑d. G‑d would then show whether He approved of this act. Moses spoke to Korah privately and warned him against his lust for personal honor. "Is it not enough that the G‑d of Israel has distinguished you from the congregation of Israel to draw you near to Him, to perform the service in the Tabernacle of the L-rd and to stand before the congregation to minister to them? " Moses said (Numbers 16:9). But his words fell on deaf ears.
Dathan's and Abiram's Spite
After his unsuccessful talk with Korah, Moses sent for Dathan and Abiram, ringleaders of the rebellion among the non-Levites. However, they replied with their usual arrogance (Numbers16:12-13): ""We will not go up. 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? " Moses was deeply hurt by this venomous attack upon his leadership, and he prayed to G‑d to expose the wickedness of these people before the entire congregation of Israel.
Punishment of the Rebels
The next morning Korah's associates appeared before the Tabernacle with censers, as Moses had told them to do. With them came the entire community whom Korah had called to witness the proceedings. Then G‑d told Moses to order the children of Israel to separate themselves from Korah and his associates, and everything that belonged to them, for fear that they share the rebels' fate. Again Moses and the Elders approached Dathan and Abiram in a last minute effort to induce them to repent of their sin. However, it was in vain, and Moses ordered the rest of the people to depart from the tents of Dathan and Abiram. The people obeyed. Dathan and Abiram and their families stood in front of their tents, and in a defiant mood continued to abuse Moses.
Gravely, Moses told the children of Israel (Numbers 16:28): "With this you shall know that the Lord sent me to do all these deeds, for I did not devise them myself. If these men die as all men die and the fate of all men will be visited upon them, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the L-rd creates a creation, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them and all that is theirs, and they descend alive into the grave, you will know that these men have provoked the Lord." Hardly had Moses finished speaking, when the earth cleft asunder, and swallowed Korah and his associates with their families and belongings. They were buried alive and perished by a terrible death that made the people who stood nearby flee in terror. The next instant a fire from heaven devoured the 250 men who had dared to contest Aaron's priestly authority by offering incense.
The Budding Staff
The following day, some of the children of Israel complained that Moses and Aaron had caused the death of so many leading men, whereupon, G‑d sent a plague which killed many thousands more of the rebels.
The authority of Aaron as High-priest was to be openly proved, so that his supremacy might forever be assured and recognized. Each tribe was commanded to bring one rod inscribed with its name; that of the tribe of Levi was to bear the name of Aaron. The rods were given to Moses, who took them into the Tabernacle. The tribe whose rod would blossom and bud was to be considered as especially elected and favored by G‑d.
Moses did as G‑d had ordered him. The next morning the priests entered the Sanctuary, and saw that Aaron's staff had budded and blossomed and yielded ripe almonds! Moses carried the rods out to the children of Israel, and each of the tribes took its rod. Everyone was now convinced of Aaron's right to the priesthood.