Friday, June 15, 2007

Korach The Baldie!

Well, today Hamas took over Gaza! Good idea that disengagement plan - eh?

Let us focus on better things... yes...rebellions in the Parasha as well! As some of you know, the past while, I have been quite into Midrash. One Midrashic technique is to play with people's names and to read meaning into them. Well I love this one on Parashat Korach. Here goes...

Everyone knows the problem with the Parsha's opening passuk. It says ויקח קרח - "And Korach took" but the verse never tell us what he took! Problem.

Here is a great Midrash:

מדרש תנחומא פרשת קרח סימן ג
(ג) ויקח קרח לקח טליתו והלך ליטול עצה מאשתו בשעה שאמר ליה הקב"ה למשה קח את הלוים מתוך בני ישראל וטהרת אותם וכה תעשה להם לטהרם וגו' (שם /במדבר/ ח) מיד עשה משה כן לקרח התחיל לחזר על כל ישראל לא היו מכירין אותו אמרו לו מי עשה בך כך, אמר להם משה עשה בי כך ולא עוד אלא נטלוני בידי ורגלי והיו מניפין אותי ואומרים לי הרי אתה טהור, והביא את אהרן אחיו וקשטו ככלה והושיבו באהל מועד, מיד התחילו שונאי משה להתגרות בו את ישראל ואמרו משה מלך ואהרן אחיו כהן גדול ובני אהרן סגני כהונה, תרומה לכהן מעשר ראשון לכהן כ"ד מתנות לכהן

This Midrash is packed with many things but one thing it does discuss is the episode that convinced Korach to rebel. It pins the responsibility on the situation in which the Levites were appointed instead of the Firstborn. (BTW Korach is a Levite AND a firstborn - see Shemot 6:21) The ceremonial sanctification of the Leviim is described in Bamidbar ch.8. There we are told that the Leviim had to shave their entire bodies and were waved by Aharon. (Rasag says that it means that Aharon lead them past the Mizbeach, but Rashi thinks he picked everyone up in the air!!!) Indeed, the Ibn Ezra concurs with this assessment. He also connects the Leviim appointment to Korach. The social unrest caused by the demotion of the firstborn, and the promotion of the Levites - Moses' tribe (!) - PLUS the start of the Temple and the supreme status of Aharon, lead to the unrest based upon the fact that Levi were taking all the glory for themselves and denying everyone else.

But according to this Midrash, what started it was Korach's physical appearance. "When God said to Moses: Take the Levites ... and purify them (and pass a razor over all their flesh)...Moses performed this act immediately. Korach walked around the Israelite camp and nobody recognized him!

"Who did this to you?" They asked him.
"Moses!" - He replied - "And not just that, but they took me by hand and foot and waved me, and said 'You are Pure!' and he brought Aharon and dressed him up like a bride and sat him in place of honour in the Mishkan ... etc."

How does the Midrash know that the fact the people failed to recognize Korach because he had his hair and beard shaved?


The Hebrew קרח may be read as "Korach," or alternatively "kereach" i.e. bald! "And Korach took" ... he took his "kereach" his baldness! That indignity turned him to the path of rebellion.

A Midrash based upon a meaning in a name, and a wordplay.

Shabbat Shalom!

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