Korach (parsha)

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Korach or Korah (קֹרַחHebrew for the name "Korah,” which in turn means “baldness, ice, hail, or frost,” the second word, and the first distinctive word, in the parashah) is the 38th weekly Torah portion (פָּרָשָׁה, parashah) in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading and the fifth in the book of Numbers. It constitutes Numbers 16:1–18:32. The parashah is made up of 5,325 Hebrew letters, 1,409 Hebrew words, and 95 verses, and can occupy about 184 lines in a Torah Scroll (סֵפֶר תּוֹרָה, Sefer Torah).[1]

Jews generally read it in June or early July.

The Punishment of Korah (detail from the fresco Punishment of the Rebels by Sandro Botticelli (1480–1482) in the Sistine Chapel)


In traditional Sabbath Torah reading, the parashah is divided into seven readings, or עליות, aliyot.[2]

The Death of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (1865 etching by Gustave Doré)
Destruction of Korah Dathan and Abiram (illustration from the 1890 Holman Bible)

First reading — Numbers 16:1–13[edit]

In the first reading (עליה, aliyah), the Levite Korah son of Izhar joined with the Reubenites Dathan and Abiram sons of Eliab and On son of Peleth and 250 chieftains of the Israelite community to rise up against Moses.[3] Moses told Korah and his band to take their fire pans and put fire and incense on them before God.[4] Moses sent for Dathan and Abiram, but they refused to come.[5]

Second reading — Numbers 16:14–19[edit]

In the second reading (עליה, aliyah), the next day, Korah and his band took their fire pans and gathered the whole community against Moses and Aaron at the entrance of the Tabernacle.[6]

Third reading — Numbers 16:20–17:8[edit]

In the third reading (עליה, aliyah), the Presence of the Lord appeared to the whole community, and God told Moses and Aaron to stand back so that God could annihilate the others.[7] Moses and Aaron fell on their faces and implored God not to punish the whole community.[8] God told Moses to instruct the community to move away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, and they did so, while Dathan, Abiram, and their families stood at the entrance of their tents.[9] Moses told the Israelites that if these men were to die of natural causes, then God did not send Moses, but if God caused the earth to swallow them up, then these men had spurned God.[10] Just as Moses finished speaking, the earth opened and swallowed them, their households, and all Korah’s people, and the Israelites fled in terror.[11] And a fire consumed the 250 men offering the incense.[12] God told Moses to order Eleazar the priest to remove the fire pans — as they had become sacred — and have them made into plating for the altar to remind the Israelites that no one other than Aaron’s offspring should presume to offer incense to God.[13] The next day, the whole Israelite community railed against Moses and Aaron for bringing death upon God’s people.[14] A cloud covered the Tabernacle and the God’s Presence appeared.[15]

Fourth reading — Numbers 17:9–15[edit]

In the fourth reading (עליה, aliyah), God told Moses to remove himself and Aaron from the community, so that God might annihilate them, and they fell on their faces.[16] Moses told Aaron to take the fire pan, put fire from the altar and incense on it, and take it to the community to make expiation for them and to stop a plague that had begun, and Aaron did so.[17] Aaron stood between the dead and the living and halted the plague, but not before 14,700 had died.[18]

Aaron’s Rod that Budded (illustration from the 1890 Holman Bible)
Aaron’s Rod Budding (illustration from the 1728 Figures de la Bible)

Fifth reading — Numbers 17:16–24[edit]

In the fifth reading (עליה, aliyah), God told Moses to collect a staff from the chieftain of each of the 12 tribes, inscribe each man’s name on his staff, inscribe Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi, and deposit the staffs in the Tent of Meeting.[19] The next day, Moses entered the Tent and Aaron’s staff had sprouted, blossomed, and borne almonds.[20]

Sixth reading — Numbers 17:25–18:20[edit]

In the sixth reading (עליה, aliyah), God instructed Moses to put Aaron’s staff before the Ark of the Covenant to be kept as a lesson to rebels to end their mutterings against God.[21] But the Israelites cried to Moses, “We are doomed to perish!”[22] God assigned the Levites to Aaron to aid in the duties of the Tent of Meeting.[23] God prohibited any outsider from intruding on the priests as they discharged the duties connected with the Shrine, on pain of death.[24] And God gave Aaron and the priests all the sacred donations and first fruits as a perquisite for all time for them and their families to eat.[25] And God gave them the oil, wine, grain, and money that the Israelites brought.[26] But God told Aaron that the priests would have no territorial share among the Israelites, as God was their portion and their share.[27]

Seventh reading — Numbers 18:21–32[edit]

In the seventh reading (עליה, aliyah), God gave the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their share in return for the services of the Tent of Meeting, but they too would have no territorial share among the Israelites.[28] God told Moses to instruct the Levites to set aside one-tenth of the tithes they received as a gift to God.[29]

In classical rabbinic interpretation[edit]

The parashah is discussed in these rabbinic sources from the era of the Mishnah and the Talmud:

Numbers chapter 16[edit]

A Midrash taught that Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and On all fell in together in their conspiracy, as described in Numbers 16:1, because they lived near each other on the same side of the camp. The Midrash thus taught that the saying, “Woe to the wicked and woe to his neighbor!” applies to Dathan and Abiram. Numbers 3:29 reports that the descendants of Kohath, among whom Korah was numbered, lived on the south side of the Tabernacle. And Numbers 2:10 reports that the descendants of Reuben, among whom Dathan and Abiram were numbered, lived close by, as they also lived on the south side of the Tabernacle.[30]


Reading the words of Numbers 16:1, “And Korah took,” a Midrash asked what caused Korah to oppose Moses. The Midrash answered that Korah took issue with Moses because Moses had (as Numbers 3:30 reports) appointed Elizaphan the son of Uzziel as prince of the Kohathites, and Korah was (as Exodus 6:21 reports) son of Uzziel's older brother Izhar, and thus had a claim to leadership prior to Elizaphan. Because Moses appointed the son of Korah’s father’s youngest brother, Uzziel, the leader, to be greater than Korah, Korah decided to oppose Moses and nullify everything that he did.[31]

Datan and Abiram Devoured by the Earth (illumination by Hesdin of Amiens from a circa 1450–1455 "Biblia pauperum" (Bible of the Poor))
The Punishment of Korah’s Congregation (woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld from the 1860 Bible in Pictures)

Resh Lakish interpreted the words “Korah . . . took” in Numbers 16:1 to teach that Korah took a bad bargain for himself. As the three Hebrew consonants that spell Korah’s name also spell the Hebrew word for “bald” (kereach), the Gemara deduced that he was called Korah because he caused a bald spot to be formed among the Israelites when the earth swallowed his followers. As the name Izhar (יִצְהָר) in Numbers 16:1 derived from the same Hebrew root as the word “noon” (צָּהֳרָיִם, tzohorayim), the Gemara deduced from “son of Izhar” that Korah was a son who brought upon himself anger hot as the noon sun. As the name Kohath (קְהָת) in Numbers 16:1 derived from the same Hebrew root as the word for “set on edge” (קהה, kihah), the Gemara deduced from “son of Kohath” that Korah was a son who set his ancestors’ teeth on edge. The Gemara deduced from the words “son of Levi” in Numbers 16:1 that Korah was a son who was escorted to Gehenna. The Gemara asked why Numbers 16:1 did not say “the son of Jacob,” and Rabbi Samuel bar Isaac answered that Jacob had prayed not to be listed amongst Korah's ancestors in Genesis 49:6, where it is written, “Let my soul not come into their council; unto their assembly let my glory not be united.” “Let my soul not come into their council” referred to the spies, and “unto their assembly let my glory not be united” referred to Korah’s assembly. As the name Dathan (דָתָן) in Numbers 16:1 derived from the same Hebrew root as the word “law” (דָּת, dat), the Gemara deduced from Dathan’s name that he violated God’s law. The Gemara related the name Abiram (אֲבִירָם) in Numbers 16:1 to the Hebrew word for “strengthened” (iber) and deduced from Abiram’s name that he stoutly refused to repent. The Gemara related the name On (אוֹן) in Numbers 16:1 to the Hebrew word for “mourning” (אנינה, aninah) and deduced from On’s name that he sat in lamentations. The Gemara related the name Peleth (פֶּלֶת) in Numbers 16:1 to the Hebrew word for “miracles” (pelaot) and deduced from Peleth’s name that God performed wonders for him. And as the name Reuben (רְאוּבֵן) derived from the Hebrew words “see” (reu) and “understand” (מבין, mavin), the Gemara deduced from the reference to On as a “son of Reuben” in Numbers 16:1that On was a son who saw and understood.[32]

The Wicked Being Swallowed Up in the Ground (illustration from the 1897 Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us by Charles Foster)

Numbers 16:1–2 reports that the Reubenite On son of Peleth joined Korah’s conspiracy, but the text does not mention On again. Rav explained that On’s wife saved him, arguing to him that no matter whether Moses or Korah prevailed, On would remain just a disciple. On replied that he had sworn to participate. So On’s wife got him drunk with wine, and laid him down in their tent. Then she sat at the entrance of their tent and loosened her hair, so that whoever came to summon him saw her and retreated at the sight of her immodestly loosened hair. The Gemara taught that Proverbs 14:1 refers to On’s wife when it says: “Every wise woman builds her house.”[33]

The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot deduced that the controversy of Korah and his followers was not for the sake of Heaven, and thus was destined not to result in permanent change. The Mishnah contrasted Korah’s argument to those between Hillel and Shammai, which the Mishnah taught were controversies for the sake of Heaven, destined to result in something permanent.[34]

Rabbi Levi taught that God told Moses “enough!” in Deuteronomy 3:26 to repay Moses measure for measure for when Moses told Korah “enough!” in Numbers 16:3.[35]

Rav Adda bar Abahah taught that a person praying alone does not say the Sanctification (Kedushah) prayer (which includes the words from Isaiah 6:3: (קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת; מְלֹא כָל-הָאָרֶץ, כְּבוֹדוֹ, Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh, Adonai Tz'vaot melo kol haaretz kevodo, “Holy, Holy, Holy, the Lord of Hosts, the entire world is filled with God’s Glory”), because Leviticus 22:32 says: “I will be hallowed among the children of Israel,” and thus sanctification requires ten people (a minyan). Rabinai the brother of Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba taught that we derive this by drawing an analogy between the two occurrences of the word “among” (תּוֹךְ, toch) in Leviticus 22:32 (“I will be hallowed among the children of Israel”) and in Numbers 16:21, in which God tells Moses and Aaron: “Separate yourselves from among this congregation,” referring to Korah and his followers. Just as Numbers 16:21, which refers to a congregation, implies a number of at least ten, so Leviticus 22:32 implies at least ten.[36]

Rabbi Akiva (illustration from the 1568 Mantua Haggadah)

A Midrash expanded on the plea of Moses and Aaron to God in Numbers 16:22 and God’s reply in Numbers 16:24. The Midrash taught that Moses told God that a mortal king who is confronted with an uprising in a province of his kingdom would send his legions to kill all the inhabitants of the province — both innocent and the guilty — because the king would not know who rebelled and who did not. But God knows the hearts and thoughts of each and every person, knows who sinned and who did not, and knows who rebelled and who did not. That is why Moses and Aaron asked God in Numbers 16:22, “Shall one man sin, and will You be wrath with all the congregation?” The Midrash taught that God replied that they had spoken well, and God would make known who had sinned and who had not.[37]

Rabbi Berekiah read Numbers 16:27 to teach how inexorably destructive dispute is. For the Heavenly Court usually does not impose a penalty until a sinner reaches the age of 20. But in Korah’s dispute, even one-day-old babies were consumed by the fire and swallowed up by the earth. For Numbers 16:27 says, “with their wives, and their sons, and their little ones.”[38]

The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot taught that the opening of the earth’s mouth in Numbers 16:32 was one of ten miracles that God created at the end of the first week of creation at the eve of the first Sabbath at twilight.[39]

Rabbi Akiva interpreted Numbers 16:33 to teach that Korah’s assembly will have no portion in the world to come, as the words “the earth closed upon them” reported that they died in this world, and the words “they perished from among the assembly” implied that they died in the next world, as well. But Rabbi Eliezer disagreed, reading 1 Samuel 2:6 to speak of Korah’s assembly when it said: “The Lord kills, and makes alive; He brings down to the grave, and brings up.” The Gemara cited a Tanna who concurred with Rabbi Eliezer’s position: Rabbi Judah ben Bathyra likened Korah’s assembly to a lost article, which one seeks, as Psalm 119:176 said: “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant.”[40]

A Tanna in the name of Rabbi deduced from the words “the sons of Korah did not die” in Numbers 26:11 that Providence set up a special place for them to stand on high in Gehinnom.[41] There, Korah’s sons sat and sang praises to God. Rabbah bar bar Hana told that once when he was travelling, an Arab showed him where the earth swallowed Korah’s congregation. Rabbah bar bar Hana saw two cracks in the ground from which smoke issued. He took a piece of wool, soaked it in water, attached it to the point of his spear, and passed it over the cracks, and the wool was singed. The Arab told Rabbah bar bar Hana to listen, and he heard them saying, “Moses and his Torah are true, but Korah's company are liars.” The Arab told Rabbah bar bar Hana that every 30 days Gehinnom caused them to return for judgment, as if they were being stirred like meat in a pot, and every 30 days they said those same words.[42]

Rabbi Judah taught that the same fire that descended from heaven settled on the earth, and did not again return to its former place in heaven, but it entered the Tabernacle. That fire came forth and devoured all the offerings that the Israelites brought in the wilderness, as Leviticus 9:24 does not say, “And there descended fire from heaven,” but “And there came forth fire from before the Lord.” This was the same fire that came forth and consumed the sons of Aaron, as Leviticus 10:2 says, “And there came forth fire from before the Lord.” And that same fire came forth and consumed the company of Korah, as Numbers 16:35 says, “And fire came forth from the Lord.” And the Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer taught that no person departs from this world until some of that fire, which rested among humanity, passes over that person, as Numbers 11:2 says, “And the fire rested.”[43]

Numbers chapter 17[edit]

Rav taught that anyone who persists in a quarrel transgresses the commandment of Numbers 17:5 that one be not as Korah and his company.[44]

Budding of Aaron's Staff (woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld from the 1860 Bible in Pictures)
Aaron's Rod Has Sprouted (illumination by Hesdin of Amiens from a circa 1450–1455 "Biblia pauperum" (Bible of the Poor))

Rabbi Joshua ben Levi explained how, as Numbers 17:11–13 reports, Moses knew what to tell Aaron what to do to make atonement for the people, to stand between the dead and the living, and to check the plague. Rabbi Joshua ben Levi taught that when Moses ascended on high (as Exodus 19:20 reports), the ministering angels asked God what business one born of woman had among them. God told them that Moses had come to receive the Torah. The angels questioned why God was giving to flesh and blood the secret treasure that God had hidden for 974 generations before God created the world. The angels asked, in the words of Psalm 8:8, “What is man, that You are mindful of him, and the son of man, that You think of him?” God told Moses to answer the angels. Moses asked God what was written in the Torah. In Exodus 20:2, God said, “I am the Lord your God, Who brought you out of the Land of Egypt.” So Moses asked the angels whether the angels had gone down to Egypt or were enslaved to Pharaoh. As the angels had not, Moses asked them why then God should give them the Torah. Again, Exodus 20:3 says, “You shall have no other gods,” so Moses asked the angels whether they lived among peoples that engage in idol worship. Again, Exodus 20:7 (20:8 in the NJPS) says, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” so Moses asked the angels whether they performed work from which they needed to rest. Again, Exodus 20:6 (20:7 in the NJPS) says, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain,” so Moses asked the angels whether there were any business dealings among them in which they might swear oaths. Again, Exodus 20:11 (20:12 in the NJPS) says, “Honor your father and your mother,” so Moses asked the angels whether they had fathers and mothers. Again, Exodus 20:12 (20:13 in the NJPS) says, “You shall not murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal,” so Moses asked the angels whether there was jealousy among them and whether the Evil Tempter was among them. Immediately, the angels conceded that God’s plan was correct, and each angel felt moved to love Moses and give him gifts. Even the Angel of Death confided his secret to Moses, and that is how Moses knew what to do when, as Numbers 17:11–13 reports, Moses told Aaron what to do to make atonement for the people, to stand between the dead and the living, and to check the plague.[45]

A Baraita taught that Josiah hid the Ark, the bottle containing the manna (see Exodus 16:33–34), Aaron’s staff with its almonds and blossoms (see Numbers 17:25), and the chest that the Philistines sent as a gift (see 1 Samuel 6:8), because Josiah read in Deuteronomy 28:36: “The Lord will bring you, and your king whom you shall set over you, to a nation that you have not known.” Therefore he hid these things, as 2 Chronicles 35:3 reports: “And he said to the Levites, that taught all Israel, that were holy to the Lord: ‘Put the holy ark into the house that Solomon, the son of David, King of Israel built. There shall no more be a burden upon your shoulders now.’”[46]

Hillel (sculpture at the Knesset Menorah, Jerusalem)

Numbers chapter 18[edit]

closeup of Torah scroll showing portions of Numbers 18:27–30 regarding tithes

A non-Jew asked Shammai to convert him to Judaism on condition that Shammai appoint him High Priest. Shammai pushed him away with a builder’s ruler. The non-Jew then went to Hillel, who converted him. The convert then read Torah, and when he came to the injunction of Numbers 1:51, 3:10, and 18:7 that “the common man who draws near shall be put to death,” he asked Hillel to whom the injunction applied. Hillel answered that it applied even to David, King of Israel, who had not been a priest. Thereupon the convert reasoned a fortiori that if the injunction applied to all (non-priestly) Israelites, whom in Exodus 4:22 God had called “my firstborn,” how much more so would the injunction apply to a mere convert, who came among the Israelites with just his staff and bag. Then the convert returned to Shammai, quoted the injunction, and remarked on how absurd it had been for him to ask Shammai to appoint him High Priest.[47]

Tractate Terumot in the Mishnah, Tosefta, and Jerusalem Talmud interpreted the laws of the portion of the crop that was to be given to the priests in Numbers 18:8–13.[48]

Tractate Bikkurim in the Mishnah, Tosefta, and Jerusalem Talmud interpreted the laws of the first fruits in Exodus 23:19, Numbers 18:13, and Deuteronomy 12:17–18 and 26:1–11.[49]

Tractate Demai in the Mishnah, Tosefta, and Jerusalem Talmud, interpreted the laws related to produce where one is not sure if it has been properly tithed in accordance with Numbers 18:21–28.[50]


According to Sefer ha-Chinuch, there are 5 positive and 4 negative commandments in the parashah.[51]

In the liturgy[edit]

Some Jews read about how the earth swallowed Korah up in Numbers 16:32 and how the controversy of Korah and his followers in Numbers 16 was not for the sake of Heaven as they study Pirkei Avot chapter 5 on a Sabbath between Passover and Rosh Hashanah.[61]

And similarly, some Jews refer to the 24 priestly gifts deduced from Leviticus 21 and Numbers 18 as they study chapter 6 of Pirkei Avot on another Sabbath between Passover and Rosh Hashanah.[62]

Saul Meets Samuel (watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot)


The haftarah for the parashah is 1 Samuel 11:14–12:22.

When the parashah coincides with Shabbat Rosh Chodesh (as it does in 2013 and 2017), the haftarah is Isaiah 66:1–24.

Further reading[edit]

The parashah has parallels or is discussed in these sources:



Early nonrabbinic[edit]

Classical rabbinic[edit]





External links[edit]

Old book bindings.jpg




  1. ^ "Torah Stats — Bemidbar". Akhlah Inc. Retrieved July 7, 2013. 
  2. ^ See, e.g., The Schottenstein Edition Interlinear Chumash: Bamidbar/Numbers. Edited by Menachem Davis, 112–32. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 2007. ISBN 1-4226-0208-7.
  3. ^ Numbers 16:1–2.
  4. ^ Numbers 16:6–7.
  5. ^ Numbers 16:12.
  6. ^ Numbers 16:18–19.
  7. ^ Numbers 16:20–21.
  8. ^ Numbers 16:22.
  9. ^ Numbers 16:23–27.
  10. ^ Numbers 16:28–30.
  11. ^ Numbers 16:31–34.
  12. ^ Numbers 16:35.
  13. ^ Numbers 17:1–5.
  14. ^ Numbers 17:6.
  15. ^ Numbers 17:6.
  16. ^ Numbers 17:9–10.
  17. ^ Numbers 17:11–12.
  18. ^ Numbers 17:13–14.
  19. ^ Numbers 17:16–19.
  20. ^ Numbers 17:23.
  21. ^ Numbers 17:25.
  22. ^ Numbers 17:27–28.
  23. ^ Numbers 18:2–6.
  24. ^ Numbers 18:7.
  25. ^ Numbers 18:8–13.
  26. ^ Numbers 18:12–16.
  27. ^ Numbers 18:20.
  28. ^ Numbers 18:21–24.
  29. ^ Numbers 18:26–29.
  30. ^ Numbers Rabbah 18:5.
  31. ^ Midrash Tanhuma Korah 1.
  32. ^ Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 109b.
  33. ^ Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 109b–10a.
  34. ^ Mishnah Avot 5:17.
  35. ^ Babylonian Talmud Sotah 13b.
  36. ^ Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 21b.
  37. ^ Midrash Tanhuma Korach 7.
  38. ^ Midrash Tanhuma Korach 3.
  39. ^ Avot 5:6.
  40. ^ Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:3; Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 108a, 109b.
  41. ^ Babylonian Talmud Megillah 14a, Sanhedrin 110a.
  42. ^ Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 110a–b.
  43. ^ Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer, chapter 53. Early 9th century. Reprinted in, e.g., Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer. Translated and annotated by Gerald Friedlander, 429–30. London, 1916. Reprinted New York: Hermon Press, 1970. ISBN 0-87203-183-7.
  44. ^ Numbers Rabbah 18:20.
  45. ^ Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 88b–89a.
  46. ^ Babylonian Talmud Yoma 52b.
  47. ^ Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 31a.
  48. ^ Mishnah Terumot 1:1–11:10; Tosefta Terumot 1:1–10:18; Jerusalem Talmud Terumot 1a–107a.
  49. ^ Mishnah Bikkurim 1:1–3:12; Tosefta Bikkurim 1:1–2:16; Jerusalem Talmud Bikkurim 1a–26b.
  50. ^ Mishnah Demai 1:1–7:8; Tosefta Demai 1:1–8:24; Jerusalem Talmud Demai 1a–77b.
  51. ^ Sefer HaHinnuch: The Book of [Mitzvah] Education. Translated by Charles Wengrov, volume 4, pages 119–59. Jerusalem: Feldheim Pub., 1988. ISBN 0-87306-497-6.
  52. ^ Numbers 18:2
  53. ^ Numbers 18:3
  54. ^ Numbers 18:4
  55. ^ Numbers 18:5
  56. ^ Numbers 18:15
  57. ^ Numbers 18:17
  58. ^ Numbers 18:23
  59. ^ Numbers 18:24
  60. ^ Numbers 18:26
  61. ^ Menachem Davis. The Schottenstein Edition Siddur for the Sabbath and Festivals with an Interlinear Translation, 571, 577. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 2002. ISBN 1-57819-697-3.
  62. ^ Davis, Siddur for the Sabbath and Festivals, at 587.