In Korach, this week’s Torah portion, we learn that Korach, along with Dattan, Aviram, and 250 men from the tribe of Reuven, challenged Moses and Aaron’s leadership. Eventually Korach, Dattan, and Aviram, along with their entire families were swallowed up by the earth, while the 250 men were consumed by a heavenly fire. While they repressed a threat to Moses and Aaron’s authority the extreme nature of their punishment seems out of proportion. At the end of the Torah portion we read that Aaron is appointed as Cohen Gadol, high priest. Aaron’s election is confirmed through a test of the staffs. There we read:
‘Speak to the children of Israel, and take of them rods, one for each fathers’ house, of all their princes according to their fathers’ houses, twelve rods; you shall write every man’s name upon his rod. And you shall write Aaron’s name upon the rod of Levi, for there shall be one rod for the head of their fathers’ houses. And you shall lay them up in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. And it shall come to pass, that the man whom I shall choose, his rod shall bud; and I will make to cease from Me the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against you.’ And Moses spoke unto the children of Israel; and all their princes gave him rods, for each prince one, according to their fathers’ houses, even twelve rods; and the rod of Aaron was among their rods. And Moses laid up the rods before the Lord in the tent of the testimony. And it came to pass on the next day, that Moses went into the tent of the testimony; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and put forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and bore ripe almonds. And Moses brought out all the rods from before the Lord to all the children of Israel; and they looked, and took every man his rod. (Numbers 17: 17-24)
This seems like such a more reasonable way to resolve conflict. Each loser takes his staff home, no one gets eaten by the earth or burned to death, and the winner gets an almond treat. It seems that the Levi bracket in the tournament was really tough. Why did we need to have the whole Korach ordeal and this almond lottery?
An answer to this question might come by looking at the connections between these stories and the struggle for power in the story of Purim. In Megilah we read about Haman the number two to the king who wanted to kill all of the Jews. There we read:
And Haman said to King Achashverosh, There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of your kingdom; and their laws are different from all people; they do not keep they the king’s laws: therefore it is not for the king’s profit to suffer them. (Esther 3:8)
Haman paid the king for the right to kill the Jews. He cast a pur– lot – to determine the day of their extermination. There we read:
Wherefore they called these days Purim, after the name of pur. Therefore because of all the words of this letter, and of that which they had seen concerning this matter, and that which had come unto them ( Esther 9:26)
There was a lottery to determine the day to kill a people who the king’s number two portrayed as not keeping the king’s laws. Clearly on Purim we were spared and this horrible day was transformed into a day of celebration for the generations, but what about the whole ordeal with Korach? Aaron was person of significance, the brother of liberator of the people, and Moses’s interpreter (foreign minister). One could even say that Aaron like Haman was the king’s number two. Korach came forward and clearly represented a challenge to Moses and Aaron and the law/rule of Moses. While Haman is not swallowed up by the ground, he is hung from the etz– gallows that he built for Mordecai. After putting down the Korach insurrection Aaron might have lost his role as the number two, but instead his staff sprouts and his leadership is rejuvenated. While everyone walks around with a dead tree in hand, Aaron’s power in reinforced as the Cohen Gadol and the staff (etz– tree) in his hand is alive.
It seems that the Purim story itself might be a remix of our Korach story, but what do we make of this juxtaposition? Regardless of our perception of God’s presence or absence in the world as the authority, the main story line in history is people want power and want to maintain their own authority. We need to learn to swallow our pride or we risk getting swallowed up by our own ambitions. What are better ways of dealing with our insecurities? Do not leave it up to chance or aggression. I say find a way to get your love at home.