Korach 5784: Almonds and Blossoms Quell a Rebellion

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Korach, Moshe and Aharon face the first insurgency of its kind: a direct rebellion against their leadership and an attempt to overthrow them.  Until now, the complaints of the nation have been directed against G-d, keviyachol (as if such a thing were possible): the people complain at Yam Suf (Shemos Chapter 14), complain about lack of water (Shemos Chapter 17), complain about the manna and lack of meat (Bamidbar Chapter 11), and complain about the Land of Israel (Bamidbar Chapter 13 and 14).  All of these complaints were directed towards Moshe, but only as an emissary of G-d.

Now, for the first time, a group of men, led by Korach, rise up against Moshe.  Korach, a first cousin to Moshe and Aharon (Korach’s father, Yitzhar, and Moshe and Aharon’s father, Amram, were brothers), contests their leadership, claiming (rightly so) that the entire nation is holy, and G-d is amongst of all Israel, and therefore, the nation has no need for leaders (wrongly so).  While it is true that every single Jew is holy and has potential for tremendous greatness, as we were all charged at Har Sinai with being a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Shemos 19:6), it is also true that we do need leaders to guide us, advise us, and teach us.  G-d is certainly within every Jew and amongst us all, but our leaders have insights, wisdom, a degree of holiness, and closeness to G-d that is above the regular Jew.  Hence, from the beginning of time, our nation looks to our teachers and leaders to guide us.

And so, we understand from the Torah text – Korach’s charge and Moshe’s reply – that while Korach purported to want a leaderless nation, what Korach really wanted was to be the leader himself.

The rebellion is put to the test, and to rest, in stages.

Ultimately, Korach and his family and the leaders of the rebellion are swallowed up, when the ground opens up and takes them down alive.  As for the two hundred and fifty men who joined the rebellion, a fire goes forth from before Hashem and they too meet their end. (See Bamidbar 16 for all the details and stages of the rebellion and the punishments of the insurgents.)

When the nation complains that Moshe has put to death the nation of G-d – and they are still not convinced that Moshe and Aharon have been divinely appointed (Bamidbar 17:6) – G-d commands Moshe to do something different.

In the words of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z’l, “This time, G-d suggested an entirely different way of resolving the dispute.  He told Moshe to have each of the tribes take a staff and write their name on it, and place them in the Tent of Meeting.  On the staff of the tribe of Levi, he should write the name of Aharon.  One of the staffs would sprout, and that would signal whom G-d had chosen… The next morning they returned to find that Aharon’s staff had budded, blossomed, and produced almonds.  This miracle finally ended the rebellion (Bamidbar 17:16-24).

“What resolved the dispute was not a show of power, but something else altogether.  The fact that Aharon’s rod produced almond blossoms – וַיִּגְמֹל שְׁקֵדִים – seems to have had rich symbolism.  In the Near East, the almond is the first tree to blossom, its white flowers signaling the end of winter and the emergence of new life…

“The almond flowers that sprouted on the staff – וַיֹּצֵא פֶרַח – recalled the gold flowers on the menorah, lit daily by Aharon in the Mishkan.  And the blossoms – וַיָּצֵץ צִיץ – recalls the ‘tzitz’, the golden head-plate worn by Aharon; one of the eight priestly garments he donned for his service in the Mishkan.  On the head-plate, the words ‘kodesh la’Hashem – holy to G-d’ (or ‘la’Hashem kodesh’) were inscribed (Shemos 28:36).

“The sprouting almond branch was therefore more than a sign.  It was a multi-faceted symbol of life (almonds), light (flowers), and holiness (blossoms), and all of these together symbolized the watchful presence of G-d.

“The almond branch – a living, blossoming, thriving organic branch – therefore, symbolized the priestly will to life as against the rebels’ will to power.  The kohen does not rule the people; he blesses them.  He is the conduit through which G-d’s life-giving energies flow.  He connects the nation to the Divine Presence – to the Source of the nations life.

“What makes a spiritual leader is not ambition, but humility” (Covenant and Conversation, The Book of Numbers, p.206-207).

While the tests/proofs of the (i) ketores and fire pans, (ii) the ground opening up and swallowing the leaders, (iii) the fire that consumed the two hundred and fifty men (Bamidbar Chapter 16), and (iv) the plague which smote the people (17:11-14), were all ineffective in convincing the nation of the truth of G-d’s chosen leaders, the almonds, blossoms and flowers put the rebellion to rest.  When faced with the proof of life, light and holiness, the insurgency died down.

Am Yisrael is a nation that chooses life, yearns for light, and seeks holiness.  Even when these elements are covered up, and the facts seem otherwise, in our hearts and the deepest recesses of our souls, these yearnings and elements always remain.

Sometimes the enemy that dampens these forces are external, and sometimes, Hashem yerachem, the elements that dampen these forces arise from within – like Korach and his men.  When our nation is engaged in machlokes, strife and quarrel that are not for the sake of Heaven; when we do not respect the ways of another Jew (even if we don’t agree with their ways), and when brother cannot stand shoulder-to-shoulder with brother, we are forgetting the staff of Aharon and the message and meaning of the almonds.

Only when we refrain from behaving like Korach and his assembly (Bamidbar 17:5), and we choose life, light and holiness – each one of us working together with his fellow Jew – will we merit to turn churban (destruction) into binyan (rebuilding) and galus (exile) into geula (redemption) (Yoma 9b).

As we enter the month of Tamuz, and Av that follows, and we once again mourn for churban Tzion v’Yerushalayim, and as we see our world and our beloved State torn asunder since Oct. 7, Hashem yerachem, we would do well to remember the message of Aharon’s staff and the blossoms it sprouted.

We too must choose light, life, and holiness, and work together to ensure we will once again merit: v’nasati shalom ba’Aretz v’simchas olam li’yosh’ve’ha – and I will place harmony and peace in the Land, and eternal joy for Her inhabitants.

Halavay may it be immediate and in our days,

בברכת שבת שלום וחודש טוב,


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