parasha

Psalm from within the Earth!

Pinchas 5780

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites

In this week’s Torah portion of Pinchas, we read a long perek (chapter) that summarizes the census that took place in the Moab plain on the western side of the Jordan.  This census was part of the nation’s preparation for dividing the land among the tribes of Israel.  During the census, we find a surprising reference to an event we read about weeks ago: the rebellion of Korach against Moses.

The Torah describes the census as the tribes of Israel were divided into households, and when it summarizes the families of the tribe of Ruben, it focuses on two familiar people – Datan and Aviram, Korach’s partners in the rebellion against Moses:

“The sons of Eliab were Nemuel, Datan and Aviram they are Datan and Aviram, the chosen of the congregation who incited against Moses and Aaron in the assembly of Korach, when they incited against the Lord. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and Korach…and they became a sign.”

And then there’s an additional comment we will examine:

“Korach's sons, however, did not die.”

(Numbers 26, 9 – 11)

What is the story with Korach’s sons?  When we read Parashat Korach we were given the impression that the entire Korach family was swallowed by the earth.  Now, it turns out that impression was mistaken.  Korach’s sons did not die.

The next time we encounter Korach’s sons will be in the book of Psalms.  It turns out that Korach’s sons were among the poets of the Psalms, and they even served as head poets in the Temple in Jerusalem.  Eleven of the psalms were composed by the sons of Korach.  Let’s look at some of the verses of these psalms:

As a hart cries longingly for rivulets of water, so does my soul cry longingly to You, O G-d.

My soul thirsts for G-d, for the living G-d; when will I come and appear before G-d?

Why are you downcast, my soul, and why do you stir within me? Hope to G-d, for I will yet thank Him for the salvations of His presence.

(Psalms 42, 2-3; 12)

My soul yearns, yea, it pines for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh pray fervently to the living G-d.

O Lord of Hosts, fortunate is the man who trusts in You.

(Ibid 84, 3; 13)

Korach’s sons’ psalms raise questions.  These are lofty people experiencing profound religious experiences, connected down to the depths of their souls to what is sacred and to closeness with G-d.  No wonder they merited being among the poets of the Psalms.

In order to understand their story correctly, we turn to Rashi, the biblical commentator:

“At first, they were in their father’s counsel, but at the time of the controversy, they parted, and when all those around them were swallowed up, and the earth opened its mouth, their place was left within the mouth of the earth…There they uttered a song, and there they composed these psalms.  Then they ascended from there, and the holy spirit rested on them.”

(Rashi on Psalms 42, 1)

 

 

The sons of Korach, it turns out, were not always such righteous men.  At the beginning of the rebellion, they sided with their father against Moses and Aaron.  But at a certain point, they stopped and looked at where they were heading.  When their father, Korach, was swallowed up by the earth, they descended as well!  From the depths of the earth they acknowledged the error in their ways and made the decision to withdraw from the rebellion.  At the last minute, they ascended from the earth and stayed alive!

Korach’s sons symbolize man’s incredible, G-d-given ability to rise up from low spiritual situations and embark on a new path that ultimately leads to the Divine Presence. 

The poets of the Temple, the Torah tells us, were Korach’s descendants.  The prophet Samuel was a descendant of Korach’s as well.  Korach’s family was not rejected following the acts of the head of the family because the right to renounce wrongdoing, rise up and move forward is not dependent on the acts of parents or on the acts of the person himself.  Irrespective of a person’s situation, he or she is called upon to rise up and move forward in a beneficial and joyful spiritual path.  

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