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Torah Sparks

June 23, 2001 - 5761

Prepared by Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg
Temple Sinai, Hollywood, FL

Edited by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Num. 16:1-18:32; Hertz Chumash, p. 639
Triennial Cycle III: Num. 17:25-18:32; Hertz Chumash, p. 644
Haftarah: I Samuel 11:14-12:22; Hertz Chumash, p. 649

(16:1-15) Korach and his faction rebel against Moses and Aaron's authority.

(16:16-35) Moses proposes a test to Korach and his followers: offer incense before God, and see if He accepts it. After the Israelites withdraw from the rebels, the earth splits and swallows up Korach and his followers. Then a fire consumes the 250 rebellious Levites.

(17:1-15) As a warning to future generations, the rebels' copper incense pans are gathered up and beaten into a covering for the altar. After further complaints, a plague breaks out among the Israelites, but Aaron quickly offers incense to expiate their sins.

(17:16-24) Each tribal chieftain is asked to take a wooden staff to the Tent of Meeting. Aaron's alone sprouts, signifying that God favors his leadership.

(17:25-28) Aaron's staff is left before the Ark as "a lesson to rebels."

(18:1-7) The division of tasks among the Priests and Levites, beginning with the assignment of the High Priesthood to Aaron and his descendants.

(18:8-20) Neither Israelites nor the priests will be given any territory in the land. Instead, they will be supported by donations and shares of sacrifices.

(18:21-32) The Levites are to receive the tithe, 10% of the crops harvested by the people. They are then to give 10% of their portion, a tithe of a tithe, also known as terumah, to the priests.

Theme 1: The Problem

But the Israelites said to Moses, "Lo we perish! We are lost, all of us lost! Everyone who so much as ventures near the Lord's Tabernacle must die, Alas we are doomed to perish!" (Numbers 17:27-28)

  1. When he was strong, he grew so arrogant he acted corruptly: he trespassed against his G-d by entering the Temple of the Lord to offer incense on the incense altar. The priest Azariah, with eighty other brave priests of the Lord, followed him in and, confronting King Uzziah, said to him, "It is not for you Uzziah, to offer incense to the Lord but for the Aaronite priests, who have been consecrated, to offer incense. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have trespassed; there being no glory in it for you from the Lord G-d." Uzziah, holding the censer and ready to burn incense, got angry; but as he got angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead in front of the priests in the House of the Lord beside the incense altar. When the High Priest Azariah and all the other priests looked at him, his forehead was leprous, so they rushed him out of there; he too made haste to get out, for the Lord had struck him with a plague. King Uzziah was a leper until the day of his death. (II Chronicles 26:16-21)
  2. Having seen what happened to those who illegally performed holy functions, the people were afraid that any inoffensive approach to the Tabernacle and its service might bring disastrous consequences. To free them from this anxiety, there were given the preventive law, "but a common man shall not draw nigh unto you (Num. 18:4)" (Rashbam - Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir; 12th C. on Num. 17:23)

Discussion Sparks:

Has there ever been a time when you felt that you had no right to offer a prayer or a petition to G-d? What causes us to feel far away from G-d?

Theme 2: The Solution

They (the Levites) shall be attached to you and discharge the duties of the Tent of Meeting, all the service of the Tent; but no outsider shall intrude upon you as you discharge the duties connected with the Shrine and the Altar, that wrath may not again strike the Israelites. (Numbers 18:4-5)

  1. According to P, it is the Levites' mortal task in guarding the Tabernacle that entitles them to the largesse of the tithes as their reward. (Num. 18:21,31) Such ransoming of Israelites by Levites is not an instance of vicarious atonement, whereby the innocent suffer for the sake of the wicked. The formula implies the reverse: encroaching Israelites are ransomed only by the guilty - that is, negligent - Levite guards... Numbers 18 is a fitting appendix to the Korahite rebellion of the two preceding chapters... Chapter 18 is both the remedy and the consolation. Thereafter, the sacral guards will bear the responsibility for lay encroachment. The doctrine of collective responsibility is compromised for Israel's sake so that it may again worship at the sanctuary without fear. (Jacob Milgrom; The JPS Torah Commentary, Numbers; Excursus 40 p. 424)

Discussion Sparks:

Do we ask certain Jewish religious dignitaries to intervene on our behalf when we need to approach G-d? If so, what qualities do they have that you feel makes them unique? Are they G-d's representatives or just more familiar with the ways of G-d? How do we feel when we have to ask someone else to help us be closer to G-d?

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