2003Immediately following Korach's failed rebellion, God firmly establishes the priesthood both symbolically, by causing Aaron's staff to blossom from among the staffs of the heads of all the tribes, and through verbal instruction:
Of Protests, Portions, and Priests
"And the Holy One spoke to Aaron saying: I hereby give you charge of My gifts, all the sacred things of the Israelites; I grant them to you and to your sons as a portion, an ordinance for all time." Bemidbar 18:8
Your Torah Navigator
"I hereby give you charge of My gifts" - why does the Eternal choose this moment to affirm and instruct about the status and role of the priests?
"This text establishes a covenant with Aaron regarding the holiest sacrifices, decreeing a law and establishing a covenant about them, responding to when Korach came against Aaron to protest about the priesthood.
To what is this similar? To a king of flesh and blood who had a servant and gave him a field as a gift, but didn't sign or seal or register it. Someone came to protest against him about the field. The king said to him: 'Come, everyone who wants to protest about the field. Come, and I will sign, seal and inscribe it in the registry.'
Thus, when Korach came against him to protest the priesthood, the Holy One said to him: 'Let everyone come who wants to protest the priesthood. Come and I will sign, seal and inscribe in the registry.' This is why this section is connected to that of Korach."
Your Midrash Navigator
1. What gift is the Eternal offering the priests?
2. Why does God call all those who want to protest?
It's interesting, perhaps ironic, that the Midrash brings as a parable a story of a gift of land, when priests have no share of territory nor may they own any property. The Holy One tells Aaron: "I am your portion and share (verse 20)."
The priests have nothing of their own; they are dependent upon the Israelites to support them and their work through observance of agricultural laws mandating their offerings of first fruits, tithes, redemptions, and sacrifices. What they do have is a role, a high pressure job serving God and protecting all Israelites from incurring any guilt connected with the work of the Sanctuary.
In the parable, the servant is given a gift of land; the Midrash understands the gift to the priests as the service itself. As others came to protest the gift of land to the servant, Korach and those with him came to protest the gift of the priesthood to the priests.
The priests are given the privilege of closeness with the Holy One, a life dedicated to Temple service and the ability to approach the Divine in the holiest of places and the most sacred of times. They have the honor of working to elevate the Israelites offerings (and thus, the community itself) to God.
For many contemporary Jews, the concept of this access based on lineage rather than ability, or merit, can be challenging. We may find ourselves connecting more with Korach's statement: "All the community are holy and God is among them." The rabbis don't dispute this statement, rather, they dispute Korach's motives. We are all holy and we must find and generate holiness in our own arenas. The message to the protestors in the parable is: Plow your own field!
We bring holiness in the world not through fixed, predetermined roles but through our every interaction and opportunity we take to fulfill a mitzvah, do a kindness for another, or work to repair an injustice. And our portion, our inheritance, will not be a particular parcel of land or a payment, but rather, will be the Holy One.
Prepared by Rabbi Lina Grazier-Zerbarini, associate rabbi, Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale University.
Additional commentaries and text studies on Korach at MyJewishLearning.com.