Numbers 16:1 – 18:32

(The Rebel)
This Torah portion tells the story of Korach who led a rebellion against Moses during the journey through the wilderness. Moses accepts the challenge. The earth opens up and swallows the rebels whose firepans are beaten into coverings for the altar. Each of the twelve tribes sets up a rod marked with their name before the Tent of Meeting. In the morning Aaron’s rod has budded, blossomed, and produced ripe almonds.


WHAT IS THE BLESSING that comes from full-out rebellion? Whining, complaining, foot-dragging, depression, and debilitating exhaustion are pushed aside as Doubt stands up and cries aloud, “Let’s put my truth to the test!”

Korach airs all the doubt that has been festering within us. He stirs it up and lets it be heard. Hidden doubt eats us up from the inside, draining strength that we need for the journey. When our righteous indignation mixes with fear and greed and envy and ambition, and brings all those feelings out into the open, then all those deep-seated places of slavery can be transmuted by compassion and wise perspective. We can then embark on a path of healing.

Korach forces the hand of Truth. Without Korach, we grumble along, swallowing our bitter questions and doubt, and gradually lose our vision and power. Korach represents a stage of development that is crucial to finding our voice. Korach‘s fate is ambiguous; it is not clear whether this quintessential rebel is punished or dies. In our tradition, Korach, the apparent villain of the story, is nevertheless tendered the great honor of having his name associated with twelve of the most beautiful psalms. Clearly, the one who found his voice passed this facility on to his children who became great singers in the Temple.

KORACH IS THE POWER IN US THAT HAS NOT YET MATURED, which has not yet been tempered by humility. In one of those psalms, Korach‘s children describe the nature of power that has finally matured. “Kindness and Truth are met together,” they sing. “Justice and Peace have kissed.” (Psalm 85:11)

As a young rebel, my truth sometimes lacked kindness. My passion for justice sometimes shattered peace. Yet what a blessing it was for the power of Korach to rise in me and teach me that my pointed challenges and questions were holy. Over a lifetime of mistakes and repentance, wisdom gradually emerges to call together kindness and truth and to kindle the love between justice and peace.

The firepans, used for offering by those who joined Korach and who died in the fire of rebellion, were later hammered into plating for the altar of sacrifice. Gathered from the charred remains of confrontation, the firepans had become holy. Searching through the rubble of my own rebellions, I find that a great deal of my arrogance has been burned up in the fires of experience, but there in the ruins I also find treasures: my passion for truth, my holy questions.


OUR CHALLENGE IS TO ALLOW OUR KORACH VOICE TO EMERGE in its time and to listen carefully to its nascent power. Be aware of what danger you unleash, as well as the potential for refinement and maturity. Listen to the sound of your impatience, your ambition, your jealousy, your greed. Also hear its passionate life-force.

Korach took…” (Numbers 16:1) are the first words of this portion. Grammatically, the “taking” in this verse has no object. Taking, here, is a description of Korach consciousness — power that has not yet matured. Korach‘s untempered drive is the slavery from which he must free himself.

In his book Ishmael, Daniel Quinn divides the world into Takers and Leavers. Takers base their power on the fundamental misconception that they are separate from the world and that the world was created for them. Takers exert their power by consuming the world.

Our spiritual challenge then, is to call forth our raw power and engage in the process of its maturation. To do this we must shatter the myth of our separateness and begin to know ourselves in connection. And we must be able to discern the damage that our “taking” has done.

In the aftermath of Korach‘s rebellion, Aaron, as High Priest, takes his stand between the dead and the living, and thus ends the plague. The plague of our own time is the unchecked immature power that threatens to consume the world. To stand as High Priest between the dead and the living is to know clearly the destructive aspect of our power and to take a stand in fierce loving protection of the sacredness of all life.

THE FINAL TEST OF POWER is whether it is life-giving. In the story of Korach, God devises a test to discern the face of mature power. Each of the twelve tribes places its own staff, a symbol of its power, into the holy center of the community. The next day it is revealed that Aaron’s staff has sprouted, blossomed, and produced almonds.

This is how we know when our own power has matured. We look for the sprout, the blossom, and the fruit. What have we grown by our power? What beauty have we brought into the world? And how, with our power, have we nurtured ourselves and others?


This week of Korach sends me to memories of those times I was called rebellious. I remember my confusion; my only aim was to speak my truth and fight against what I perceived as hypocrisy. Now I see that I lacked patience, compassion, and humility, but my intentions were good and the passion that moved me came from the sacred core of Divine Essence within me.

Refining the Rebel Within

THE PRACTICE FOR THIS WEEK of Korach is to dig up the rebel buried within you and combine her essence with the specific qualities that you have worked long and hard to develop.

REMEMBER YOUR OWN PASSION which may have, over time, been dampened by life’s disappointments.

REMEMBER THE REBEL you once were and the energy that moved through you at that time. In the portion of Korach, the earth opens her mouth and swallows the rebels. They are planted in the ground like seeds, waiting for just the right conditions to grow into their fullness.

IMAGINE THE REBEL YOU ONCE WERE as a seed planted deep in the ground. Now you can bring to that seed exactly the qualities that would help it grow.

YOU CAN WATER IT WITH PATIENCE, shine on it the light of compassion, and fertilize the soil with all the shit you’ve been through.

Torah Journeys: The Inner Path to the Promised Land
©2006 Shefa Gold. All rights reserved.