“now Korah ... and Dathan and Abiram ... and On took, And they rose up before Moshe with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty men....” (Numbers 16, 1-2)
The author of Tzedah La-derekh queries the odd word order in the above two verses. Why does it not say simply that Korah, Dathan, Abiram, On, took certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes and they rose up against Moshe? Can you suggest an answer?
In identifying the rebels by listing their lineage and social position the Torah alerts us to the personal motivation for their rebellion against Moshe and Aharon.
In modern times when we witness a public demonstration, our attention is immediately drawn to the signs carried by the protesters. In reading the signs and banners, we know what they (the protesters) are all about. The Torah, in telling us the family lineage and social position, informs us in an effective and subtle manner the personal agenda of each protester. Korah, a prominent member of the tribe of Levi, felt aggrieved at the Levites’ position vis-a-vis the Kohanim (Priests). Korah obviously also felt personally aggrieved over the prominence given to Aharon as Kohen Gadol (High Priest). The children of Reuben felt aggrieved over the fact that their prominent position as first born was eclipsed by the tribe of Joseph (composed of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh). The princes of the tribes felt aggrieved because the spies all princes had perished (except Joshua and Caleb) in the plague that God brought upon them.
Had the Torah simply provided a chronicled account, as the above question contemplates, the reader would be unable to comprehend their sudden revolt against Moshe and Aharon’s leadership. Through the stylistic device of casual listing personal biographical details, the Torah subtly shares with us the motivation for the discontent and the passions brought to this insurrection.
Prepared by: Rabbi Mordechai Spiegelman veteran yeshiva educator (USA) now residing in Jerusalem