Korachmain postsNumbers - Bamidbar

From the Parasha: Korach


וַיִּקַּ֣ח קֹ֔רַח (קרח טז, א)

“Korach took…” (Numbers 16:1)

First Reading: The Unhappy Consequence of Jealousy


All the Torah commentaries attempt to explain what exactly it is that Korach took.

The grammarians explain that the three-letter root of “he took” (לקח) also means to die, as in the verse, “For God had taken him”[1] (כִּי לָקַח אֹתוֹ אֱ-לֹהִים). Based on this identification, we can explain that Korach took himself to die. Korach had suicidal thoughts. Consciously or subconsciously, he was looking for death. And he found it.

The Kabbalists tell us that Korach’s soul-root came from Cain. Moses’ soul-root came from Abel. The conflict that Korach instigated with Moses echoed Cain’s jealousy of Abel. This time, however, the conflict ended differently. Instead of the ground opening to cover Abel’s blood, this time it opened its mouth and swallowed Korach-Cain and his fellow instigators.

Cain also had a propensity for depression, as we see in God’s words to him: “Why are you wroth? And why has your countenance fallen?”[2] Depression begins when one feels dissatisfied with what he has and deepens if jealousy of what others have sets in. That is exactly how Cain felt towards Abel and the way that Korach felt towards Moses. The lack of satisfaction with his life eventually leads Korach to depression and even suicidal thoughts.

As opposed to Korach, about Moses it says, “Moses will be joyous in the gift of his portion.”[3] Likewise the Zohar on parashat Korach begins:[4]

“‘[The fear of God is…] More desirable than gold and fine gold and sweeter than honey and honeycombs.’[5] How lofty are the words of the Torah, how dear they are, desirable Above, desirable to all.”

Korach was an extremely wealthy man. He had both gold and fine gold. He also had a way with words—his tongue dripped with honey and honeycombs. Yet still, he was never content. He could never be satisfied. If a person is not satisfied with what he or she has, they will never be satisfied. But Moses was the opposite. He was happy with his portion. He was the most desirable and the sweetest because he held the Torah dear. In the end, it’s better to choose to follow Moses’ example.



וַיֵּ֨רְד֜וּ הֵ֣ם וְכָל־אֲשֶׁ֥ר לָהֶ֛ם חַיִּ֖ים שְׁאֹ֑לָה (קרח טז, לג)

“They and all that belonged to them descended, alive, into the abyss” (Numbers 16:33)

Third Reading: No Questions?


When Korach was alive on earth, everything was clear to him. He asked himself no questions (שְׁאֵלוֹת, pronounced: she’ailot, cognate with “abyss”). After all, as the sages say, “Korach was wise,”[6] sure that he was right, with no room for questions or re-evaluation of his outlook. He was always the first to speak, and he had an answer for every question. He can be likened to a tallit (a prayer shawl) that is entirely dyed in techelet and a home that is filled with holy books—the subjects of two questions he posed to Moses, using them to attempt and prove his claims against Moses.

As he was extremely wealthy, Korach also did not have to resort to “borrowing” (לִשְׁאוֹל, pronounced lish’ol, cognate with questions) anything from anyone until the earth opened its mouth and he went down, alive, into the abyss, into the she’ol.

Did Korach even notice that he had fallen into the abyss? It is not at all clear. The Torah tells us that he descended, alive, into the she’ol. Perhaps even there, he continued to live, sure of himself and pleased with his wisdom. “I am right, and everyone else is mistaken,” he would think to himself.

Is there a way out of she’ol? As above, she’ol is cognate to “question” (she’eilah). If you understand that you do not know everything, if you will only cast a doubt on your perfection and start asking questions, you can rectify your situation.

In Psalms, King David wrote, “And as I approach she’ol, here You are”[7] (וְאַצִּיעָה שְּׁאוֹל הִנֶּךָּ). This verse can also be translated as: “If I propose a question, here You are.” Even if you are in she’ol, if you begin to question your perfect wisdom, God will reveal Himself to you. Even there, “here You are.”

The entire verse reads, “If I ascend to the Heavens, You are there. And if I propose a question, here You are” (אִם אֶסַּק שָׁמַיִם שָׁם אָתָּה וְאַצִּיעָה שְּׁאוֹל הִנֶּךָּ). If you think that you can ascend to the Heavens (shamayim) by virtue of your own wisdom, then the truth will always be “over there” (sham), distant and far from you. In this case, shamayim can also be understood as the plural of sham/there. If you are flying high on your own wisdom, all that you will find up above is more distance between yourself and the Divine truth. But if you just start to question yourself and your wisdom—behold, God Himself is with you.




וְהִנֵּ֛ה פָּרַ֥ח מַטֵּֽה־אַהֲרֹ֖ן לְבֵ֣ית לֵוִ֑י וַיֹּ֤צֵֽא פֶ֙רַח֙ וַיָּ֣צֵֽץ צִ֔יץ וַיִּגְמֹ֖ל שְׁקֵדִֽים (קרח יז, כג)

“behold the staff of Aaron of the house of Levi had sprouted: it produced blossoms, brought forth sprouts, and borne almonds.” (Numbers 17:23)

Fifth Reading: The Almond’s Alacrity

Science in the Torah

In parashat Korach, nature miraculously demonstrates that Aaron the High Priest’s was selected by God to serve in the holy sanctuary. Twelve staffs were placed in the Tent of Meeting before the Ark of the Covenant, and the next day, it was Aaron’s staff that had miraculously sprouted: it had produced blossoms, brought forth buds, and borne ripe almonds. The sages note that the three stages mentioned—from budding to fruit —normally take 21 days, whereas here the entire process took only a single night. Additionally, the almond tree is the quickest to mature among all fruit trees. Given its particularly short growth period (from blossom to fruit), we can infer that its selection as the tree into which Aaron's staff transformed symbolizes the priests’ characteristic of being swift (and diligent) in their service.

The fact that the entire natural process of Aaron’s staff’s fruit production occurred, combined with the almond’s inherent rapid maturation, reveals an element of a miracle within nature, rather than a complete overriding of nature. Chassidic teachings[8] explain that there is an advantage in miracles that are clothed within nature itself over those that completely disrupt the natural order.

We will soon return to the sages' statement describing the growth period of the almond. But first, let us briefly address the question: how is it possible to unify Torah and science?

The Science in Torah with the Torah in Science

On the surface, Torah and science each deal with different realms of reality. Torah, which means "instruction," aims to guide and shape human life, while science (despite the achievements of technology) is descriptive, focusing on observation and documentation of nature. How, then, is it possible to unite such disparate fields?

From the definitions provided by the inner dimension of Torah, we can say that the unification of Torah and science is akin to the union between man and woman, male and female. Torah, in a relative sense, is masculine, while science, in a relative sense, is feminine. To achieve a meaningful and lasting union, each must find his counterpart within itself. The male must find the female within him, and the female must find the male within her. This phenomenon, where each partner contains an element that reflects the other, is called "inter-inclusion" (התכללות). The integration of any two matters begins with connecting these intermediate parts: the female aspect within the male and the male aspect within the female.

When we apply all this to the relationship between Torah and science, we arrive at the following structure:

Torah (masculine) Torah in Torah
Science in Torah Unification starts here
Science (feminine) Torah in science
Science in science

The Almond and the Hen

What then is the Torah within science? From the verse “He teaches us from the beasts of the earth and makes us wise from the birds of the heavens,”[9] the sages learned that “If the Torah had not been given, we would have learned modesty from the cat, not to steal from the ant, fidelity from the dove, and proper conduct from the rooster.”[10] This teaching reveals that there is a dimension of Torah instruction to be found in nature. Conversely, there are many examples in the Torah of statements about nature. One surprising example deals with the gestation periods of animals compared to the ripening times of fruits, beginning with the almond in our parashah about which the rabbis taught: “A hen for 21 days, and corresponding to it in a tree is the almond. A dog for 50 days, and corresponding to it among trees is the fig. A cat for 52 days, and corresponding to it among the trees is the mulberry….”[11] The basis of the comparison between animals and plants is quantitative—the number of days each one’s process of gestation/bearing fruit takes. The definition of living beings and plants (as opposed to inanimate objects) is their ability to reproduce. It can certainly be said that the time of reproduction expresses the purpose of each species of plant and animal. In this context, the hen and the almond—i.e., the almond tree—correspond to one another.

Such a comparison does not mean much to the modern scientist, and you will not hear it taught in university. However, here the Torah (that is, the science within the Torah) directs our investigation of nature. If we are wise, we will find in the Torah new directions for research that we did not know before, and in this way, the Torah can enrich science (and indeed, as far as we know, such a quantitative comparison between botany and zoology has never been researched).

The Form of the Fruit

It should be noted that the connection between the hen and the almond is also reflected in the shape of their fruits. The egg and the almond are similar in that one side is round and conical (according to the sages) and one side is sharp and conical, a shape that is a sign of purity for an egg. This is indeed a relatively rare shape for an egg, and if the sages define it as a sign of purity, there must be something common to all kosher birds that causes their eggs to take this shape.[12] Additionally, there is a connection to the shape of the almond, and new research possibilities open before us.

(translated from

Image by Germán Burrull from Pixabay

]. Genesis 5:24.

[2]. Genesis 4:6.

[3]. Siddur, Shacharit for Shabbat.

[4]. Zohar 3:176a.

[5]. Psalms 19:11.

[6]. Bamidbar rabbah 18.

[7]. Psalms 139:8.

[8]. Torah Or on Esther 100a; also Likkutei Sichot, vol. 16, p. 358 and references there.

[9]. Job 35:11

[10]. Eiruvin 100b.

[11]. Bechorot 8a.

[12]. For more on egg shapes and possible reasons for them, see D. W. Thompson, On Growth and Form, ch. XV

Related posts

Q&A: Torah Stories Literally as Written?

Gal Einai

Q&A: Suffering Jews Desecrates God’s Name?

Gal Einai

Q&A: Nervous About New Year Predictions

Gal Einai
Verified by MonsterInsights