This week we have more rebellion in the camp. Right after the debacle of the spies and being condemned to exile in the wilderness for forty years, a Levite and relative of Moses, Korah, leads a rebellion against Moses. This is no armed rebellion however; Korah actually convinces a lot of the prominent people in the community to confront Moses on an Issue:
You have gone too far, for all the community are holy, all of them, and the lord is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourself above the Lord’s congregation?”[Num 16:3]
Why are only the priesthood allowed to perform sacrifices? If all the people are holy, why can’t everybody? From a modern viewpoint, this seems like a perfectly valid argument. Why a theocracy, with Aaron and his male descendants being the only ones who can make offerings? How can a nation of priests not perform priestly duties?
We have to remember it was less than a year from this incident when Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu were fried alive by the Ark for offering an “alien fire” in their incense pans [Lev 10]. They didn’t follow proper procedures and they died. Both Moses and Aaron are all too aware of what happens if you do the wrong thing in the Mishkan.
Moses nonetheless lets them try their hand, although he’s all too aware of what’s to happen. Like Moses’ nephews before them, the conspirators are fried alive. Korah and the chief conspirators are swallowed up by the Earth. The only exception is the sons of Korah, who not only knew their place, but according to the Talmud were practicing their place at the time:
The sons of Korah did not die. A Tanna taught: It has been said on the authority of Moses our Master: A place was set apart for them in the Gehenna, where they sat and sang praises [to God].[Sanh 110a]
The sons of Korah were musicians, and they knew it. So instead of aspiring to other things they could not have done, they sang. Everyone has a calling. Some are musicians, some builders like Betzalel, some warriors like Joshua, some are priests like Aaron and Elezar and Pinchas. The conspirators in this rebellion see that they are good managers, so they think they can be good leaders too. Leadership is fraught with many dilemmas that managers don’t have to deal with. Leadership expert Peter Drucker said it best. Mangers do things right, Leaders do the right thing. There’s a big difference there. When a Leader doesn’t do the right thing, other people suffer- sometimes the whole organization gets swallowed up by the earth.
I spent the last week thinking about that. I realized last week how many hats I do wear. I am an artist, photographer, food safety consultant, health educator, quality assurance auditor, social media expert, educational psychologist, computer support tech, instructional designer, blogger, biblical historian, Jewish scholar, kashrut expert and spiritual pundit. These just the things that I consider professional. What really were Korah’s talents? Numbers 3:31 tells us of the responsibilities of the Kohathites, of which Korah was one.
And their charge shall be the ark, and the table, and the lampstand, and the altars, and the utensils of the sanctuary with which they minister, and the screen, and all its service.[Numbers 3:31]
The Kohathites then, were in charge of the most sensitive stuff in the temple, carrying the sanctuary to the place they were to camp, and quickly set it up before the people arrive [Num 10]. The Gersonites and Merarites were in charge of mere construction materials: walls and outer curtains. Korah had some of the most important jobs of all out side of the Levites. He had little to complain about, with a rather elite role already. Yet it was a backstage role, and he may have wanted that front stage role Of Aaron.
Nowhere in Numbers 3 does it mention who sings in the Temple. The Sons of Korah singing psalms is also remarkable as there is nowhere that God mentions one set of Levites to be Musicians. They too went past their appointed role, yet somehow survived. The difference between their father and themselves was a small but important one. They knew who they were. They were musicians and understood that calling and used it constructively. How they figured it out one cannot know, but in the putting together of the tabernacle, they knew Singing for them was Life.
Like me, we may all do a lot of things, all with a thread of who we truly are underneath. Hidden in many of the things we do are some of our own identity and who we need to truly be, to be a spared and blessed as Korah’s sons were, and not thrown into Sheol like Korah. The trick is to find what they are and weave them together to form a cohesive whole.
I spent last week with a lot of fascinating people and places, which is why this was late. One was a former pediatrician, another one was a litigation attorney. A scientist, a health educator, and a lot of passionate health inspectors also made me think. What they all made me think about was a simple question, the one Korah never asked: Who am I really? What do my skills and abilities and personality lead me to do? How did these people get to where they are today?
With all my talents and new ones I acquire every day, I’m still looking to find my place and to stand on it like Korah’s sons. But I know it can be done, not by knocking off any of those people, and standing in their lime light, but in creating my own place, my own calling, and standing in it.
May we all hear our inner calling.