• Gabbai

Korach – The Silver Lining

When Korach and his 250 followers led a mutiny against the leadership of the people Moshe responded by challenging them to a public showdown. “Moshe said to Korach, you and all your cohorts be before the Lord, you, they and Aaron tomorrow. And let each man take his pan and place upon it incense; each man should offer his pan before the Lord, 250 pans, as well as yours and Aaron’s.” (Numbers 16:16-17)

When all was over and the rebellion had been squashed, G-d sent instructions for Elazar, the son of Aaron, to gather the pans of the 250 challengers and fashion them into a coating for the altar “for they have been brought before the Lord and have become sacred.” (17:3)

The commentators are compelled to offer an explanation why these pans are considered holy. We can’t ignore the fact that the pans were used as instruments of mutiny. The goal of the “rebels” was to usurp the position of Moshe and Aaron, and replace them with elected figures. This was a flagrant dismissal of the system set up by G-d – the designated leaders being Moshe and Aaron. The rebellion asserted that Moshe appointed Aaron in order to keep leadership in the family. They denied that the appointment was G-d’s. In a sense, it was an uprising for democracy, asserting that many people were equally fit for the position of High Priest. Korach’s clarion call was “All the congregation, they are all holy and G-d is in their midst, and why should you [Moshe] assert superiority over the people of G-d.”

When the nation previously erred, constructing the Golden Calf and attributing divinity to it, Moshe melted it down, ground it into dust and scattered it into the river, destroying the object of their sin entirely. This time, the pans, the objects of their sin, are integrated into the furnishing of the Tabernacle, visible to all who approach the altar to bring an offering to the Almighty.

There is a subtle disagreement among the classic commentators concerning the reason the pans had sanctity. Rashi notes that the pans became sanctified since they were made into Klei Sharet, vessels for Divine Service. The Ibn Ezra offers a similar explanation. (The difficulty with this explanation is that the incense offering was far from divine service, it was merely to demonstrate whether G-d will turn to accept those offerings as He accepts the offering of Aaron, the High Priest.)