In this cycle, through the Torah, we will be taking a mystical journey. Our guide will be Rabbi Larry Tabick’s book, The Aura of Torah, published in 2014 by the Jewish Publication Society and the University of Nebraska. Translations of kabbalistic texts are by Rabbi Larry Tabick. Translations of the Torah and other commentaries are from Sefaria, except where otherwise noted. Translations of the Talmud are the Steinsaltz, William Davidson Talmud, on Sefaria.
Moses faces the most serious challenge to his authority from Korach. Triggered by the command to remain in the Wilderness for a generation, Korach uses Moses’ own words to undermine him. Backing Korach, are clans of the Levites and Reubenites joine by high-standing leaders. The rebels argue for more democratic rulership, but the Torah questions their underlying motives.
Now Korah, son of Izhar son of Kohath son of Levi, betook himself along with Dathan and Abiram sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth — descendants of Reuben — to rise up against Moses, together with two hundred and fifty Israelites, chieftains of the community, chosen in the assembly, men of repute. They combined against Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and the LORD is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the LORD’s congregation?”
When Moses heard this, he fell on his face.
Rav says: On, son of Peleth, did not repent on his own; rather, his wife saved him. She said to him: What is the difference to you? If this Master, Moses, is the great one, you are the student. And if this Master, Korah, is the great one, you are the student. Why are you involving yourself in this matter? On said to her: What shall I do? I was one of those who took counsel and I took an oath with them that I would be with them. She said to him: I know that the entire assembly is holy, as it is written: “For all the assembly is holy” (Numbers 16:3), and they observe the restrictions of modesty. She said to him: Sit, for I will save you. She gave him wine to drink and caused him to become drunk and laid him on a bed inside their tent. She sat at the entrance of the tent and exposed her hair as though she were bathing. Anyone who came and saw her stepped back. In the meantime the assembly of Korah was swallowed into the ground, and On, son of Peleth, was spared.
Korah’s wife said to him: See what Moses is doing. He is the king, he appointed his brother High Priest, and he appointed his brother’s sons deputy priests. If teruma comes, he says: Let it be for the priest; if the first tithe comes, which you as Levites take, he says: Give one tenth to the priest. And furthermore, he shears your hair and waves you as if you are as insignificant as excrement (see Numbers 8:5–11), as though he set his sights on your hair and wishes you to be shaven and unsightly. Korah said to her: But didn’t he also do so; he shaved his hair like the rest of the Levites? She said to him: Since it is all done for his own prominence, he also said metaphorically: “Let me die with the Philistines” (Judges 16:30); he was willing to humiliate himself in order to humiliate you.
She said to him: And furthermore, with regard to that which he said to you, to prepare sky-blue dye for your ritual fringes, one could respond to him: If it enters your mind, Moses, that using sky-blue dye is considered a mitzva, take out robes that are made entirely of material colored with sky-blue dye, and dress all the students of your academy in sky-blue robes without ritual fringes; why could one not fulfill the mitzva in that manner? Clearly, Moses is fabricating all this. This is the meaning of that which is written: “The wisdom of women builds her house” (Proverbs 14:1); this is referring to the wife of On, son of Peleth. And: “Folly plucks it down with her hands” (Proverbs 14:1); this is referring to the wife of Korah.
Yaakov Zevi Yolles, 19th century, Poland
Korah is the reincarnation of Cain, and Moses is the reincarnation of Abel. Therefore, Korah opposed Moses and was jealous of him, thus awakening the ancient jealousy that Cain had for Abel. Moreover, the earth was cursed then, insofar as “it opened its mouth to accept your brother’s blood (Genesis 4:11), while here Moses brings about its repair, in that it opened its mouth to swallow Korah (Numbers 16:32). One opening [compensating] for the other.
Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev, 18th century, Ukraine, Kedushat Levi (Sefaria)
The Torah Moses presented to the Jewish people reflected the power of the word used by G’d when He created the universe; however, in common with other forms of energy emanating from G’d’s essence which had to be “screened” in order that their impact would not prove harmful instead of beneficial, even in our world of the עשיה, where matter appears as if it is “real,” this is so only because what we see with our three-dimensionally oriented eyes has already undergone such a process of being screened before we see it.
When Korach had realized that the generation of which he was a part would not be granted residence in the land of Canaan, he no longer accepted Moses’ Torah as something to be understood as having been “screened” by G’d before He entrusted it to us in the format that we are familiar with.
When G’d punished Korach by making the earth open its “mouth” to swallow him and his followers alive, He actually paid him back מידה כנגד מידה, “tit for tat,” seeing that Korach had refused to believe that the earth as we see it is not the “real thing;” he was taught at the last moment of his life how wrong he had been, and that the earth had hidden dimensions he had never dreamed of.
… Korach only believed in the world of the power of speech, the world that we know as the three-dimensional world, and could not believe that behind what we see with our physical eyes there is hidden another dimension …
The next day Moses entered the Tent of the Pact, and there the staff of Aaron of the house of Levi had sprouted: it had brought forth sprouts, produced blossosm, and borne almonds.
Pesachim 54a:6, Pesachim 54b:2
Wasn’t it taught in a baraita: Ten miraculous phenomena were created in heaven on Shabbat eve during twilight, and were revealed in the world only later? They were: Miriam’s well, and the manna that fell in the desert, and the rainbow, writing [ketav], and the writing instrument [mikhtav], and the tablets of the Ten Commandments, and the grave of Moses, and the cave in which Moses and Elijah stood, the opening of the mouth of Balaam’s donkey, and the opening of the earth’s mouth to swallow the wicked in the incident involving Korah.
Apropos the list of items created during twilight, the Gemara cites that the Sages taught: Seven matters are concealed from people, and they are: The day of death; and the day of consolation from one’s concerns; the profundity of justice, ascertaining the truth in certain disputes; and a person also does not know what is in the heart of another; and a person does not know in what way he will earn a profit; and one does not know when the monarchy of the house of David will be restored to Israel; and when the wicked Roman monarchy will cease to exist.
Avot D’Rabbi Natan 41:12
These are the things that were made and then hidden: The Tent of Meeting, and the items inside it; the Ark and the broken tablets; the jar of manna; the rod [of Moses]; [the flask of anointing oil]; the staff of Aaron, with its almonds and flowers; the priestly garments and garments of the high priest. But the mortar and pestle of the House of Avtinus, the table, the lamp, the curtain, and the headband of the high priest – those are still kept in Rome.
In Yoma 52b, the Talmud describes King Josiah hiding the sacred items mentioned here prior to the destruction of the First Temple.
Mekhilta d’Rabbi Yishmael (a midrashic source)
For when Jeremiah said to Israel: Why are you not studying Torah, they said to him: How will we feed ourselves? He took out the flask of manna and said to them (Jeremiah 2:31) “O generation, see the word of the L-td, etc.” Your fathers, who studied Torah, see how they were fed. You, too, if you study Torah, the Holy One Blessed be He will feed you of this. And this is one of the three things that Eliyahu is destined to present to Israel: the flask of manna, the flask of the sprinkling waters (viz. Numbers 19:9), and the flask of the anointing oil, (viz. Exodus 30:31). Others say: Also the staff of Aaron, its almonds and its blossoms, (viz. Numbers 17:25).
Simcha Bunim of Pshische, 19th century, Poland
There is a difficulty: why does the text say “produced buds, burst into bloom,” when the whole point is to tell us that it “yielded almonds,” as is clear. We may interpret [as follows]: The verse tells us, through hints, the way to serve the Creator — that even though you may feel within the limits of perfection, that is, in your old age, as [alluded to in the phrase] “yielded almonds,” you must still be “producing buds and bursting into bloom,” by always acting with enthusiasm and at low level, as [you did] during your youth.