Parshat Korach Summary

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Parshat Korach is the 5th parsha in Sefer Bamidbar (also known as Numbers).

This parsha is verses Numbers 16:1 – 18:32, or a total of 95 verses.

Here is a brief summary for each aliyah.

Aliyah 1: Numbers 16:1 – 16:13, 13 verses

Korach (a cousin of Moses and Aaron) inspired other leaders of the Jewish people to rebel against Moses. He gathered to himself Dathan, Abiram, and On from the tribe of Reuben, along with 250 others.

They all accused Moses of usurping power that belonged to the nation as a whole.

Moses tried to delay a confrontation by proclaiming that God would make known his choice the next morning. He told Korach and his followers to appear the next day with censers and incense.

Next Moses tried to appeal to Dathan and Abiram, but they refused to speak with him.

When did Korach’s Rebellion Occur?

The Torah does not make it clear when this rebellion occurred. If the Torah is in chronological order, then Korach’s rebellion could have been sparked by the decree to wander in the wilderness for 40 years.

Some commentators suggest an earlier time. They say Korach rebelled after the Tabernacle was erected. He was upset that he was not chosen for a more exalted position within the Tribe of Levi.

Aliyah 2: Numbers 16:14 – 16:19, 6 verses

Moses was distressed and prayed to God. He asked God not to accept the incense that Korach and his followers would bring.

The next morning Korach and his 250 followers stood before the entrance to the Tabernacle with their incense.

The Glory of God appeared in the camp.

Aliyah 3: Numbers 16:20 – 17:8, 24 verses

God told Moses and Aaron that He would destroy the entire Jewish people. They pleaded with Him that it was not right to destroy everyone for the sin of one man.

God then told them to move away from the tents of Korach, Dathan, and Abiram.

Where is On ben Pelet? He was originally listed a leader from the Tribe of Reuben who was part of the rebellion. But here he’s not mentioned at all. The Gemara tells us that his wife convinced him to stop following Korach.

Moses went one more time to plead with them. He told the people that the earth swallowing Korach, Dathan, and Abiram would be a sign that God had sent Moses.

Parshat Korach - the earth splits

The earth split open and Korach, Dathan, Abiram, and their households were swallowed up.

Then a fire came from heaven and consumed the 250 who were offering incense.

God told Moses to collect the 250 censers. They were made of copper. God told Moses to turn them into a covering for Altar.

The next day the people complained that Moses was responsible for the death of those who rebelled.

Aliyah 4: Numbers 17:9 – 17:15, 7 verses

God again threatened to destroy the Jewish people. Moses realized that God had started a plague among the people.

He told Aaron to take his censer with incense on it. He was to stand between those who were alive and those who had already died in the plague.

The plague stopped spreading, but already 14,700 had died because of it.

Aliyah 5: Numbers 17:16 – 17:24, 9 verses

God gave another sign that He had chosen Moses and Aaron.

The leader of each tribe gave his staff to Moses. Moses placed them into the Tabernacle overnight. The next day all of the staves looked the same, except for Aaron’s. Aaron’s staff had sprouted blossoms and even ripe almonds were growing out of it.

Aliyah 6: Numbers 17:25 – 18:20, 24 verses

It is the job of the priests to protect the sanctity of the Tabernacle and later the Temple. They are to ensure that only authorized people participate in the Temple service.

The Tribe of Levi assist the priests, but there are limits as to how much they can do.

The priests and the Tribe of Levi will not receive a portion in the land of Israel. Instead, they are to be supported by various gifts and portions of the offerings.

After each harvest, the people are to present to the priests a portion known as “terumah.” Here, in verse 12, terumah is described as “the best of the oil, the best of the wine and grain, the first that they gave to God, to you (the priests) I have given it.”

Terumah may only be eaten by priests and their family members. Both the terumah and the person who eats it must be ritually pure.

The firstborn of people and animals belong to the priests. The firstborn of people and non-kosher animals are to be redeemed. The redemption price is kept by the priest.

The firstborn of cows, goats, and sheep are not to be redeemed. They are to be brought on the altar similar to a regular peace offering.

Aliyah 7: Numbers 18:21 – 18:32, 12 verses

The Tribe of Levi are to receive a tithe from the harvest. This tithe is known as “maaser rishon” (first tenth) or sometimes just called “maaser” (tenth).

The Levite who receives maaser is required to separate a tenth from it. He then gives this “tenth of a tenth” to a priest.

Maaser rishon can be eaten by anyone whether or not the person or the maaser is ritually pure.

Haftarah Summary

1 Samuel 11:14 – 12:22

When Korach rebelled, part of Moses’ defense was that he had never wronged the people, nor had he taken anything from them. Similarly, Samuel tells the people that he has not profited at their expense.

Samuel rebukes the people by reminding them of the many times they rebelled against God. Asking Samuel to appoint a king was another form of rebellion against God. He urges them to wholeheartedly serve God.

Further Reading

Here’s an article about Moses as a leader: Leadership in the Wilderness

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