Moses woke up one day to his cousin Korach getting in his face about Moses being the only leader, and wasn’t the whole community holy, not just Moses? Welcome to the parashah Korach¸this week’s Torah portion. Korach had gotten 250 followers to rise up against Moses, and in response, Moses challenged Korach to a fire-pan duel. Moses told them to bring their fire pans in front of the whole community the next day, and they’ll just see who it is that God chooses. God wanted to get rid of everybody, but Moses convinced God to do otherwise. Instead, God told everyone to clear out, away from Korach and his men, and suddenly, the earth opened up and the rebels are swallowed up.
From the beginning, Korach had gathered three other guys to challenge Moses’ authority. First we read that Moses just responds to Korach, but then he calls to the other three, asking them to come to him. They refuse, saying, “We will not come! Is it not enough that you brought us from a land flowing with milk and honey to have us die in the wilderness, that you would lord it over us?” (Num 16:12-13).
Two things are odd about their response. First, they hadn’t just come from a land of milk and honey (that would be Egypt). They were going to a land of milk and honey. Second, they were accusing Moses of bringing them to die in the wilderness, something the people complained about almost incessantly since they left Egypt. But this time it was real. They really were going to die in the wilderness. Why? Just last week we read of the “spies” Moses had sent into the land to see what it was like. They were so close, just about to enter the Land. But the people heard ominous reports from 10 of the 12 spies, and chose to believe them instead of Caleb and Joshua, who said that they’d make it just fine, with God’s help. For their lack of faith in God, they’re informed that their entire generation will die out, and only the new generation (plus Caleb and Joshua) would go into the Land.
The people must have been devastated. To have come so far and to get so close, only to have the prize snatched away and be doomed to die without ever seeing it. Is this why Korach rebelled? Out of disappointment and frustration and despair? How often do kids start distorting their facts, when faced with a punishment they think is too harsh and too unfair? They lash out, blaming everyone but themselves for the turn of events. Korach and his followers had already shown their lack of faith when they were among the ones who didn’t believe God’s promise. Theirs was a false leadership, based on trying to blame the one in charge instead of taking responsibility for their own action. Once they got their punishment, their continued wandering, Korach and his followers railed against the only authority they could see: Moses.
Korach and his followers were understandably distraught at realizing that they’d never reach their Promised Land. But they lashed out at the wrong people. That’s why they were punished. That’s why their rebellion failed. It’s not just that they were challenging authority. To the contrary, we applaud rebellions against despots and dictators. Heck, we’ve done it ourselves. We even (sometimes) are privately pleased when our children challenge our authority, as they make their way to independence. . Their rebellions fail when they ignore their own lack of responsibility, remake history a little, and blame everyone else. Korah’s revolution went wrong for the same reasons.