The Torah portion, or parasha, this week is Korach and is found in Numbers 16:1-18:32. In this parasha, Korah and his followers challenge the authority of Moses and Aaron – and indeed of God’s own self – by claiming that Moses is giving himself special status and raising himself above the people. Datan and Aviram, members of Korah’s faction, challenge Moses from another direction, claiming that he has brought the Israelites from a land of milk and honey to die in the wilderness. Moses tells the rebels they are to be tested by God. They and Aaron are each to bring a fire pan with incense to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. God tells Moses to instruct the rest of the community to stand back from the tents of Korah, Datan, and Aviram. The earth opens and swallows them and their households, and a heavenly fire consumes the 250 Levites’ offering of incense. God has made His position clear, but the Israelites continue to blame Moses and Aaron, claiming they are responsible for the deaths of Korah and his followers. In response, God sends a plague which kills more than 14,000 people. At Moses’ direction, Aaron runs into the community and offers incense, putting an end to the plague. God instructs Moses to offer one more demonstration. Each of the tribal chieftains is to bring a staff inscribed with his name. These, along with Aaron’s staff, representing the tribe of Levi, are to be placed in the Tent of Meeting. On the following day, it is discovered that Aaron’s staff has produced flowers and almonds, confirming that he is God’s chosen priest.
This is a sobering story. Korah is a leader, but becomes jealous of the leadership of Moses. He is attracted to the power and prestige that comes with higher leadership, but sees Moses as an obstacle, and he uses his influence to persuade others that Moses has ulterior motives in choosing to be the leader of the people. Datan and Aviram expand on the ulterior motive concept by claiming that Moses is inept and has brought the people to the wilderness to die, rather than to be guided, to the promised land. God’s message is clear – the rebels are wiped out; however, the seeds of bad influence are harder to eradicate. It takes a plague and a blossoming staff to calm the people, restore order in the camp, and help people accept the leadership that had been blessed by God. This week we learn that all of us have influence over others, and that the influence of our words can linger longer than the time it takes for us to utter them in the first place. Let us be careful to choose our words wisely, and to use our influence for good.