Korach . . . the son of Yitzhar, the son of Kehat, the son of Levi (16:1)

What moved him to start a quarrel? He was moved to it by the fact that Elitzafan, the son of his father’s brother, was appointed prince over his family, as it says, “The prince of the father’s house of the families of the Kehatites was Elitzafan the son of Uzziel” (Numbers 3:30). Korach argued: My father was one of four brothers, as it says, “The sons of Kehat: Amram, and Yitzhar, and Hebron, and Uzziel” (Exodus 4:18). As for Amram the firstborn, his son Aaron attained to greatness, and Moses to royalty. Who then should rightly take the next office? Is it not the next in line? Now I, being the son of Yitzhar, should by right be the leader of the Kehatites. Yet Moses appointed the son of Uzziel! Shall the [son of the] youngest of my father’s brothers be superior to me? Behold, I shall dispute his decision and put to naught all that has been arranged by him . . .

(Midrash Rabbah; Rashi)

And Dathan and Aviram (16:1)

They were the ones who forced Moses to flee from Egypt (by informing on him to Pharaoh that he killed an Egyptian overseer—Exodus 2:13–15). They were the ones who hurled harsh words at Moses and Aaron in Egypt (ibid. 5:20–21). They were the ones who left over from the manna (in defiance of Moses’ instructions—ibid. 16:20) and went out to gather the manna on Shabbat (ibid. v. 27). And they joined in Korach’s mutiny.

(Torah Sheleimah)

And Dathan and Aviram . . . of the tribe of Reuben (16:1)

From this text the saying is derived: “Woe to the wicked and woe to his neighbor!” It applies to Dathan and Aviram, neighbors of Korach, who both camped to the south side of the Sanctuary, as it is written: “The families of the sons of Kehat were to pitch on the side of the Sanctuary southward” (Numbers 3:29); and it says, “On the south side shall be the standard of the camp of Reuben” (ibid. 2:10).

(Midrash Rabbah; Rashi)

And On the son of Peleth (16:1)

Said Rav: On the son of Peleth was saved by his wife. She said to him, “What matters it to you? Whether the one remains leader or the other becomes leader, you will be but a follower.” Said he: “But what can I do? I have taken part in their counsel, and they have sworn me to be with them.” . . . She said: “Sit here, and I will save you.” She gave him wine to drink, intoxicated him, and put him to bed within [the tent]. Then she sat down at the entrance and loosened her hair. Whoever came [to summon him] saw her and retreated.

Meanwhile, Korach’s wife joined in and said to him: “See what Moses has done! He himself has become king; his brother he appointed high priest; his brother’s sons he has made the vice–high priests. If terumah is brought, he decrees: Let it be for the priest. If the tithe is brought, which belongs to you [i.e., to the Levite], he orders: Give a tenth part thereof to the priest. Moreover, he has had your hair cut off (cf. Numbers 8:7) and makes sport of you as though you were dirt . . . for he was jealous of your hair.” Said he to her, “But he has done likewise!” She replied, “Since all the greatness was his, he said also, ‘Let me die with the Philistines’ . . .”

Thus it is written, “A wise woman builds her house” (Proverbs 14:1)—this refers to the wife of On the son of Peleth; “but the foolish woman destroys it with her hands” (ibid.)—this refers to Korach’s wife.

(Talmud, Sanhedrin 109b)

“The entire community is holy, and G‑d is amongst them; why do you raise yourselves above the congregation of G‑d?” (16:3)

Korach said to them: All heard at Sinai the commandment, “I am the L‑rd your G‑d”! If you alone had heard it while they had not, you could have claimed superiority. But now that they have all heard it, “why do you raise yourselves above the congregation of G‑d?”

(Rashi; Midrash Rabbah)

Korach took two hundred and fifty magistrates, most of them from the tribe of Reuben his neighbors, and dressed them in garments that were wholly of blue wool. They came and stood before Moses and asked him: “If a garment is made entirely of blue wool, what is the law as regards it being exempted from the obligation of tzitzit?” Moses answered them: “It is subject to the obligation of tzitzit.” They began to laugh at him, saying: “If a garment of another sort is absolved by a single thread of blue wool, this garment, composed wholly of blue wool, cannot absolve itself?”

Korach further challenged Moses: “If a house is full of Torah scrolls, what is the law? Does it need a mezuzah on its doorpost or not?” Replied Moses, “It is obligated.” Said Korach: “The entire Torah, consisting of 275 chapters, does not absolve this house, and the [two] chapters in the mezuzah absolve it? G‑d did not command you these laws—you have invented them yourself.”

(Rashi; Midrash Rabbah)

When Moses heard it, he fell on his face (16:4)

Moses was thrown into a tremor . . . for this was already their fourth offense. To what can this be compared? To a prince who had offended his father the king, and for whom the king’s friend had effected a reconciliation, once, twice and three times. When the prince offended a fourth time, the king’s friend lost courage, saying to himself: How many times can I trouble the king?

So it was with Moses. When Israel had sinned in connection with the golden calf, “Moses besought G‑d” (Exodus 32:11). When “the people were as murmurers,” then “Moses prayed” (Numbers 11:1–2). In connection with the spies, “Moses said unto G‑d: ‘When Egypt shall hear . . .’” (ibid. 14:13). When the dissension of Korach broke out, he said: How many times can I impose myself on G‑d? So “when Moses heard it, he fell upon his face.”

(Midrash Rabbah; Rashi)

Come morning, and G‑d will show who is His, and who is holy . . . and he whom He has chosen will He cause to come near to Him (16:5)

Why this reference to “the morning”? Moses said to Korach: G‑d has set boundaries in His world. Can you transform morning into evening? If you can, you can change this. . . . It is written: “It was evening and it was morning . . . and G‑d distinguished . . .” (Genesis 1:4–5); in the same way, “Aaron was distinguished, to be consecrated . . .” (I Chronicles 23:13).

(Rashi; Midrash Rabbah)

And you desire also the priesthood? (16:10)

Moses said to them: Among the religions of the world there are various customs, and they do not all gather in the same house [of worship]. We, however, have but one G‑d, one Torah, one law, one kohen gadol and one Sanctuary; yet you, two hundred and fifty men, all desire the high priesthood! I, too, desire it!

(Midrash Tanchuma; Rashi)

If Moses, who personifies the sefirah (divine attribute) of Truth, said “I, too, desire it,” this was no mere debating tactic: Moses truly desired the position of kohen gadol for himself. This means that Korach’s desire for the highest spiritual state attainable by man was, in and of itself, a positive thing. The difference between Korach and Moses in this was that Korach acted upon this desire, in defiance of the divine decree.

This explains why our Torah reading is named “Korach.” The Talmud tells us that it is forbidden to name one’s child after a wicked person, in keeping with the rule, “The memory of the righteous should be to blessing, and the name of the wicked should rot” (Proverbs 10:7). So how is it that an entire section in the Torah carries the name of a person whose deeds were most negative and destructive?

But the name “Korach,” as the name of a Parshah in Torah, pays tribute to the positive aspect of Korach’s “rebellion.” While the story of Korach comes to teach us what not to do—not to act on even the most lofty of ambitions, if such action is contrary to the will of G‑d—it also comes to teach us that we should desire and yearn for the highest ideals, even those which we are prohibited from actually attaining.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

Moses rose up and went to Dathan and Aviram (16:25)

Resh Lakish said: This teaches that one must not be obdurate in a dispute.

(Talmud, Sanhedrin 110a)

The earth opened her mouth and swallowed them up (16:32)

Rabbah bar Bar Chanah said: I was proceeding on my travels, when an Arab said to me, “Come, and I will show you where the men of Korach were swallowed up.” I went and saw two cracks in the earth from which issued smoke. Thereupon he took a piece of clipped wool, soaked it in water, attached it to the point of his spear and passed it over there, and it was singed. Said I to him: “Listen to what you are about to hear.” And I heard them saying thus: “Moses and his Torah are true, and they [Korach’s company] are liars.”

(Talmud, Sanhedrin 110a)

And all their goods (16:32)

Rabbi Levi said: The keys to Korach’s treasure houses were a load for three hundred white mules, though all the keys and locks were of leather.

Rabbi Chama son of Rabbi Chanina said: Three treasures did Joseph hide in Egypt: one was discovered by Korach; one by Antoninus the son of Severus; and the third is stored away for the righteous in the world to come.


They, and all that was theirs, descended into the abyss (16:33)

Rabbi Berechiah said in the name of Rabbi Chelbo: Even their names flew off all written documents. Rabbi Yossei bar Chanina said: Even a needle of theirs on loan in the hands of another man was swallowed up with them.

(Jerusalem Talmud)

The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them. . . . And a fire came forth from G‑d and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who offered the ketoret (16:32–35)

Korach himself was smitten with both afflictions: he was consumed by the fire, and swallowed up by the earth.

(Midrash Tanchuma)

There were two distinct groups in Korach’s following. There were the 250 “leaders of the community, of those called to the assembly, men of distinction” who were driven by the aspiration to attain the ultimate in closeness to G‑d through the offering of the ketoret. But Korach’s camp also included a mob of rabble-rousers, including the infamous Dathan and Aviram, jealous of Moses and discontent with the “burden” of the divine commandments he had introduced into their lives.

The difference between these two groups is illustrated by the manner in which they met their tragic end. The two hundred and fifty men who offered the ketoret were consumed by a heavenly fire, while Dathan and Aviram and their ilk were swallowed up by the earth. As for Korach himself, the Midrash tells us that since he was responsible for both these groups, he received both penalties: his soul was consumed by fire, and his body was swallowed by the earth.

Korach’s mutiny also had both a soul and a body: the positive forces that agitated it, and the negative form they assumed. At its climatic end came a separation of these two elements: its “soul” ascended on high in a holy conflagration (“fire” being the process in which the energy implicit in a substance is released and rises through the atmosphere), while its “body” fell away to be absorbed by the earthly abyss. Released from its iniquitous embodiment, the spirit of Korach could now be reclaimed for its pure and holy applications.

(The  Lubavitcher Rebbe)

Lift up . . . the offering-pans of these mortal sinners, and beat them into sheets with which to plate the altar; for they have been offered to G‑d, and have become sanctified (17:2–3)

These pans have been sanctified, said G‑d to Moses. Their very metal has been hallowed by an act which, though sinful and severely punished, was motivated by a holy desire—a desire to come close to Me.

The copper plating of the altar holds an eternal lesson: If such is G‑d’s regard for a piece of inanimate metal, certainly no human being is irredeemable. For no matter how deleterious his deeds, they hide a desire and striving, intrinsic to every creature of G‑d, for the goodness and perfection of the divine.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

To be a memorial to the children of Israel . . . that he be not like Korach and his company (17:5)

Anyone who engages in divisiveness transgresses a divine prohibition, as it is written, “That he be not like Korach and his company.”

(Talmud, Sanhedrin 110a)

Why does the Torah not say “G‑d saw that it was good” on the second day of Creation (as it says in all other days)? Because on that day divisiveness was created, as it is written (Genesis 1:6), “Let there be a firmament within the water, and it shall divide between water and water.”

(Midrash Rabbah)


It brought forth blossoms, produced budding fruit, and bore ripe almonds (17:23)

Nes, the Hebrew word for miracle, means “elevation.” The purpose of a miracle is to elevate those who experience it to a higher consciousness, to a recognition of the divine reality which underlies the natural reality we encounter in our everyday lives.

There are two types of miracles: (a) miracles which utterly disregard the laws of nature; (b) miracles which, though they may be no less “impossible” by the standard norms and no less obvious a display of the hand of G‑d, nevertheless occur by natural means, employing natural phenomena and processes to achieve their ends.

At first glance, it might seem that the second miracle’s “need” to resort to natural processes makes it less of a miracle. In truth, however, a miracle that operates through nature is more elevating—hence, more “miraculous”—than a miracle that supersedes it.

A sudden, shattering change has not transformed nature—it has only gone beyond it. But when a miracle is integrated into the workings of nature, nature itself is elevated. Otherwise stated: a supra-natural miracle liberates the person who experiences it from the natural order; a natural miracle liberates the natural order itself.

The bearing of fruit by a dry stick of wood would surely have sufficed as a divine sign of Aaron’s chosenness. But G‑d did not simply make almonds appear on Aaron’s staff. Rather, He stimulated in it the full natural process of budding, blossoming, and the emergence and the ripening of the fruit. Aaron’s staff defied nature’s laws and restrictions, yet it conformed to the phases of growth that the almond naturally undergoes. It transcended nature, but did so on nature’s own terms.

(The Chassidic Masters)

G‑d spoke to Aaron, Behold, I have granted to you . . . the gifts raised to Me, all the hallowed things of the children of Israel . . . (18:8)

Korach was a comedian who made sport of Moses and Aaron. What did he do? He gathered the entire congregation, and began to say to them words of mockery. He said: A widow with two orphan girls, who lived in my neighborhood, had a single field. When she came to plow it, Moses said to her: “You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together” (Deuteronomy 22:10). When she came to sow, Moses said to her: “You shall not sow your field with mixed seed” (Leviticus 19:19). She came to harvest and make bundles, and he said: Leave behind leket (“gleanings”), shikchah (“forgotten bundles”) and pe’ah (the unharvested “edge of the field”—Deuteronomy 22:9 and 24:19). She came to make her silo, and he said: Give terumah (the portion “uplifted” for the kohen), first tithe and second tithe. She accepted the law and gave him. So what did this poor woman do? She sold her field and bought two sheep, to clothe herself from their shearings and profit from their offspring. No sooner had they given birth than Aaron came and said to her: Give me the firstborn, for so has G‑d said to me, “All firstborn . . . you shall sanctify to G‑d” (ibid. 15:19). She accepted the law and gave them to him. The shearing season arrived, and she sheared them; comes Aaron and says: Give me the first shearings, for so said G‑d, “The first shearings of your sheep you shall give to him” (ibid. 18:4). Said she: I have no more strength for this man! I shall slaughter them and eat them! As sooner had she slaughtered them, he said to her: Give me the foreleg, the cheeks and the belly (ibid. v. 3). Said she: Even having slaughtered them, I have not saved them from him! I proclaim them sacrosanct! said he to her: If so, all is mine, for so said G‑d: “All things declared sacrosanct in Israel shall belong to you” (Numbers 18:14). He took them and went his way, leaving her weeping. This is what happened to this poor woman. All this they do, and attribute it to G‑d . . .

(Yalkut Shimoni)

The concept of matnot kehunah, the gifts given to the kohen, represents the crux of Korach’s objection to the priorities taught by Moses.

Matnot kehunah mean that a person dedicates the choicest portions of the yield of his material labors to a spiritual cause. In a person’s own life, it means that even if the great majority of one’s day is devoted to material pursuits, its best hours are devoted to Torah study and prayer. In other words, it means that a person regards the spiritual aspect of his life as “higher” than its material aspect, even when accepting that his mission in life demands that the bulk of his time, talents and resources be applied to interacting with the material world.

This perspective on the interrelation between the material and the spiritual is the antithesis of Korach’s claim that everyone and everything is equally “holy” and that there’s no reason to set any person or thing on a “higher level” than its fellows.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

Out of all that is given to you, you shall set aside all that is due as a gift to G‑d; of the choicest thereof, the hallowed part of it (18:29)

Everything that is for the sake of G‑d should be of the best and most beautiful. When one builds a house of prayer, it should be more beautiful than his own dwelling. When one feeds the hungry, he should feed him of the best and sweetest of his table. When one clothes the naked, he should clothe him with the finest of his clothes. Whenever one designates something for a holy purpose, he should sanctify the finest of his possessions, as it is written, “All the fat is to G‑d.”