“And the earth opened her mouth and swallowed them up... So they...... fell alive into the pit” Numbers 16:32-3

By Rabbi Michael Pollak, June 6, 2013

And so ended the rebellion led by Korach, the eponymous villain of our parashah. Oscar Wilde commented on the degree to which “life imitates art”. We might elaborate on his thesis with the parallel proposition that at the moment “life is imitating the parashah”. As political disagreement in Israel ratchets itself up to previously unscaled heights, so we arrive at the greatest rebel of all, Korach. Will our modern day rebels live to see a fate quite as macabre as his?

This gruesome end of being buried alive is expanded on by the Talmud in Baba Batra 74a. Rabbah bar bar Chana (third century) was a noted traveller and halachic master.

In one of his tales, he recalls being brought to the site of Korach’s incarceration by an Arab merchant. “He said to me: ‘Come, I will show you the men of Korach that were swallowed up’. I saw two cracks that emitted smoke… He said to me: ‘Listen attentively [to] what you [are about to] hear’. And I heard them say: ‘Moses and his Torah are truth and we  are liars’.”

Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz (1550 –1619), known best for his commentary Kli Yakar on the Chumash, writes in one of his sermons that this illustrates the insidious nature of internecine dispute. Rabbah bar bar Chana lived nearly 2,000 years after Korach yet the argument is still causing “cracks” in the ground and still reverberates.

Most chillingly, such arguments enter our being in such a manner that it takes an outsider — an Arab merchant —to point them out. Maybe there is an Arab Knesset member who could fulfil this role today.

Last updated: 12:55pm, June 6 2013