Our parasha begins "Vayikach Korach..." "Korah took..."
Reading through the remainder of this verse and subsequent verses, one will discover that the text never really explains what it is that Korach "took." Over the generations, various commentators have suggested differing answers to the question of what, exactly, Korach took. Rashi suggests he took a "different side." Others suggest he took other persons or other leaders. Sforno suggests Korach "took" the 250 leaders that had been selected by the tribes. Maimonides offers an internal explanation - that Korach "took" advice into his heart.
The answer is missing, and it is up to us to discern it from the text.
Similarly, the Torah speaks of Korach's protests and complaints against Moses and Aaron. What's missing from the text is some idea of exactly what Korach is proposing to address these grievances. Is he calling for democratic rule? New leadership? Shared leadership? Does he wish to take Moses' place?
Again, the answer is missing, and left for us to find.
In previous years, I have spoken of another unanswered question - Korach's fate. The text hints, but never makes it clear exactly what happened to Korach. Was he swallowed up into the earth or was he consumed by fire? There are conflicting reports, both in this parasha and elsewhere in the Torah. In fact, one could suggest that Korach did not die at all. He becomes a sort of Flying Dutchman. (I have a new theory about how Korach represents the "trickster," but that's a discussion for a future musing.)
Another puzzle for us to unravel, based on both what the text says and doesn't say.
We also have another missing person. At the beginning of the parasha, four "conspirators" are named -- Korach, Datan, Abiram, and On ben Pelet. Yet after this one mention, we never hear of On ben Pelet again. The Rabbis suggest that, based on his wife's counsel, On decided to remove himself from the "rebellion." This is pure conjecture, midrash to fill in the gaps. Plausible, yes. Certain? No.
Another unanswered question.
And all of them in relation to this one parasha and this particular story of Korach's "rebellion."
All of which leads me to a new possible understanding of exactly what Korach "took." He took the missing pieces from story, leaving us with puzzles, gaps to fill, unanswered questions.
We're "taken in" by this story of rebellion, which, on the surface, seems to have a foregone conclusion, and merely provides yet another abject lesson for the stiff-necked, stubborn, and obstinate people of Israel. It seems like the kind of story that should be nice and tidy, all wrapped up nicely tied up with a bow, all the jots and tittles in place, the "I"s dotted and the "T"s crossed.
Now, I am of two minds here. Part of me maintains my earlier view that the gaps and missing pieces in Torah are there purposefully to lead us to greater understanding. In fact, when I wrote in past years on not knowing Korach's fate, I suggested that through this Torah teaches us that life is full of untidy things, loose ends, and we should relish them.
And yet another part of me is considering this "trickster" theory of mine about Korach. Like the earlier trickster figures (perhaps Jacob and/or Esau, Laban, and surely Pharaoh) and later ones (like HaSatan) perhaps Korach is weaving his trickster-like ways through the "missing" elements from his very own story!! Perhaps in the future I'll explore this more in depth, as I've recently begun serious research into the how the "trickster" fits into Judaism.)
Whatever reason the answers, the missing data, were "taken" from text as we have received it, we can use these as important opportunities for studying, learning, interpreting our holy Torah. Early in the technical theatre career which preceded my now full-time Jewish professional status, I learned an important lesson about the art of lighting design. Good lighting design, I discovered, was not about where the light was, but about where the light wasn't. The shadows, the dark corners, the dimly lit areas often do far more to define the artistic intent of the lighting. And without them, there is no sculpting and shaping of the space.
And so it is with Torah. It's easy for us to understand the obvious parts, the places where the light shines brightly. Yet it in is the places that are less obvious, where there are shadows where we can often learn the most.
On this bright and shiny 4th of July, enjoy some shadows as well as the bright explosions of the fireworks.
©2003 by Adrian A. Durlester
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