This week we hit one of the biggest hurdles in getting to the Promised Land, the internal rebellion. In the Torah this is represented by Korah and the related rebellions. We’re all familiar with the concept in our own lives, a sense of self destruction of the path. One day you are on the top of the word, successful and ready to have your dream come true. The next you do one very stupid thing and the world come crashing down. One feels like Korah’s final fate. The ground under your feet opens ups and you fall straight to Sheol. We’ve seen it happen all too often to people in view of the media both in the political and entertainment realms. Then there are the times it has happened to us as well. It’s happened to me numerous times to be sure
As outside observers of such events, we always think “why was he so stupid?” The self-destructive behavior seems to make no sense. After the event on many an occasion when I’ve done something that stupid, I’ve noticed how much I think the same about my own behavior. This is our inner Korah, the rebel who refuses for us to grow. The Korah within us might start as one other form of resistance such as a craving, yet gathers together other thoughts, as Korah gathers around him all other others in his conspiracy.
To understand how Korah affects we must first look at what he was really after, and why that was so destructive in the text. Most of this portion is about who is and isn’t a priest. Korah’s original rhetoric is:
And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said to them, You take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you lift up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord? [Numbers 16:]
But Moses replies personally to Korah:
Does it seem but a small thing to you, that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself to do the service of the tabernacle of the Lord, and to stand before the congregation to minister to them? And he has brought you near to him, and all your brothers the sons of Levi with you; and do you also seek the priesthood? [Numbers 16 9-10]
The thing that Korah wants seems democratic if we were talking about people. All the people should be priests Korah seems to say. But if we think in terms of the journey or getting to a goal, then things are a bit different. It’s a lot like 600,000 backseat drivers and no front seat driver – one would never get to the destination. As we already know, many want to turn back and go back to being slaves in Egypt. From last week, some want to haphazardly go into the land. There is no organization to this mess because there is no singular vision to unite so many people – except Moses and Aaron.
The rebellions and murmurings effectively end after the contest of the rods. Once it is clear Aaron’s rod was selected, and then the people no longer conspire against him. Aaron’s singular authority as a priest is made clear. We cannot go in a million directions at once to get to our goal – we must plan one particular route. Anything else leads to paralysis.
The resistance that is Korah is there are visions of what we want, and visions of what we are used to. Often one causes problems for the other. In the text once again we see that with Dathan’s and Abiram’s charge against Moses referring to Egypt:
13. Is it a small thing that you have brought us out of a land that flows with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, that you also make yourself a prince over us? 14. Moreover you have not brought us into a land that flows with milk and honey, or given us inheritance of fields and vineyards. Will you take out the eyes of these men? We will not come up.[Numbers 16:13-14]
This time Egypt is so inflated as to be indistinguishable from the Promised Land, both are described as a land of milk and honey. That old vision of ourselves as being in a good place, no matter how horrible it really was, gets in the way. We get so used to it, we can’t think any other way. When there is a chance for us to get something really good, we go out of our way to make sure we keep the old way, and like Dathan and Abiram and many of the people think of the path to change, traveling through the wilderness, as a fatal mistake.
The fourteen year old computer geek I once was is not the guy I am today. That guy I was last week who was always upbeat, Said Hello to every conference attendee, and try to lift the spirit of everyone he met is a far cry from the kid cowering behind his Apple ][. Yet there is always something in me that tries to pull back to that time. Friday, as I tried to get this piece written I noticed that – a lot. It did in fact sabotage me enough that I did not finish this piece until Sunday. My inner Korah, that servant of my Yetzer ha ra, tried to derail me after a very successful, though busy week.
Even eliminating this self-sabotage can cause resistance. In the text the people begin to murmur:
But on the next day all the congregation of the people of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, saying, You have killed the people of the Lord.[Numbers 17]
Of course this is a ludicrous charge. Moses goes out of his way to tell the people it’s not him doing this, but God, and because these people are not as holy as they claim. Indeed all the people were witnesses to an event only a few months before that was identical to the death of the co-conspirators in the rebellion: the death of Nadav and Abihu, Aaron’s sons. At that point, no one claimed Moses or Aaron killed any body.
Memory is a curious thing. To remove the self destructive parts of ourselves we must remove memory. But such removals remove part of ourselves, and we feel guilty about such removal because we are no longer who we used to be. We do not read it in the text, but had God not started a plague then, the people very likely would have grabbed shovels and would have started to dig for Korah. Such guilt often brings back the self destruction.
Before they have a chance, God starts a plague, one that Moses and Aaron stop in a very ironic way:
11. And Moses said to Aaron, Take a censer, and put fire in it from the altar, and put on incense, and go quickly to the congregation, and make an atonement for them; for anger has come out from the Lord; the plague has begun. 12. And Aaron took as Moses commanded, and ran into the midst of the congregation; and, behold, the plague had begun among the people; and he put on incense, and made an atonement for the people. 13. And he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stopped.[Numbers 17:11-13]
The same incense that killed Aaron’s sons and killed the 250 co-conspirators saves the day. It’s not the incense offering that is bad, but its use and who uses it. Memories and mental constructs can be for our benefit or our destruction. Sometimes they are for both, and some memories were okay for our protection in the past, but are in the way in getting to our future. A three year old might find the world a big scary place. When he’s thirteen or even twenty two, He needs to get beyond that construct; otherwise he will be painfully shy. On the other hand, memories can prevent us from getting into true hazards, such as someone who really does want to hurt us. Memories, like incense is all in how it is used.
Yet what makes the difference and what really calms the people down the most is the proof that there is one dominant vision of how to live. Aaron’s staff growing almonds is the evidence of a dominant position, one picked by God. We too need to find our singular vision of what our promised land should look like, and make it so strong that resistance is not just destroyed but so overpowered by that vision the distractions and resistance is drowned out. Rebellions are silenced because they can never get as loud as the way we know is right. They are still there, of course. While my inner rebellions and resistance didn’t bother me while I was at my meetings last week, when I slowed down on Friday they exploited the pause. Even after the contest of the rods, there are still murmurings, but no longer are there revolts.
Sometimes the stuff that was once our most powerful allies on the journey might become new resistance when we reach our goal. Next week we’ll look at what happens when we really do start to become successful.