Bnei Yisrael have been complaining all the way through the Midbar!
But now, a large group, led by one man, Korach, brought the ultimate complaint: they thought Moshe and Aharon shouldn’t be the leaders of bnei Yisrael. Moshe was angry, but decided to let Hashem choose the men’s punishment. He told them to bring ketores, spices burning in a pan for Hashem, the next day, and see what would happen. Well, they all brought burning ketores in the morning, and Hashem made a neis: a huge mouth opened up in the earth and swallowed up Korach, his followers, their families, houses, and all their stuff.
This is very strange: Why did it swallow their possessions, their families and houses?
Imagine you won a wonderful new bike in a raffle. You’d feel so proud! You’d ride around, showing it off, bragging, and forget that some kids don’t even have bicycles at all. You might even forget that you won it – you might start to think you’re extra-special and deserve it more than the other kids.
We can use our “stuff” for mitzvos or aveiros: guess which Korach’s followers preferred?
Something else interesting and strange happened. Every follower of Korach who didn’t get sucked down into the mouth in the earth was burnt with fire and killed. But the copper pans they brought ketores on were not damaged. Hashem told Elazar, Aharon’s son, to flatten out the copper (soft metal can be pounded super-flat, almost like aluminum foil!) and lay it over the Mizbeach as a reminder of what happens if we don’t listen to Hashem and follow His chosen leaders.
Remember, bnei Yisrael are not always good about listening to these reminders…!
In fact, the very next day, all of bnei Yisrael came to Moshe and said, “why did you kill those tzaddikim?” They thought Korach and his followers were right. Hashem got very angry and sent a plague to destroy them, but Moshe sent Aharon out with ketores (good ketores, this time!) to save their lives. This is not the first time Moshe has had to work hard to save bnei Yisrael.
Even though they were saved from the plague, they still wonder who’s the right leader.
Hashem came up with a test that would prove, once and for all, who was the leader He’d chosen. Each Shevet (tribe) brought a dead stick of wood with its name carved on it and left it in the Kodesh HaKodashim overnight. In the morning, all the shevatim came to get their stick back… but something wonderful had happened to the stick of Shevet Levi, the family of Moshe and Aharon. It was blooming! But it was not just blooming in the regular way, with clusters of beautiful flowers…
Have you ever seen a tree with flowers? Have you seen a tree with fruit?
Nature always works in order: first, a tree has buds, then the buds open into flowers, then the flowers fall off and turn into fruits. But when Hashem does things, He doesn’t have to follow this order. The stick of Moshe and Aharon did not just have flowers; it had flowers AND buds AND fruit at the same time! (The “fruits” were actually almonds. Most nuts are a kind of tree fruit.)
At last, Hashem has proven that Moshe and Aharon are the rightful leaders!
(do you think that means the end of the complaining in the Midbar…?)
Were bnei Yisrael the only ones still wondering all along who should lead?
We have already heard that Moshe was עָנָיו מְאֹד מִכֹּל הָאָדָם (“anav me’od mikol adam”/ more humble than any other person). Many great leaders don’t believe they are meant to be in charge (remember at the Burning Bush, when Moshe told Hashem he couldn’t lead because he wasn’t a good talker?). The greatest English writer, William Shakespeare, wrote in a play (Twelfth Night), that “some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em.”
Moshe and Aharon had greatness “thrust upon them,” but now everyone believes in them.
The kohanim have also learned that their job is a very serious business. They have seen that they can die if they don’t perform the avodah and bring korbanos and ketores properly.
I’m glad they’ve learned this, because big changes are coming in next week’s parsha…
I know nobody loves to leave comments these days, but if you use these overviews in any way, with or without your kids, it’s always more fun for me to work with feedback than to just keep typing into a vacuum… ;-)