Pinchas: Rabble Rousers

Chosen of the Assembly??

Dathan and Abiram are Israelites who join Korach’s rebellion against Moses and are swallowed by the earth with the other rebels. Even before the Korach episode, these rabble rousers cause trouble multiple times including: they tattle to Pharaoh that Moses killed an Egyptian; they defy Moses’ orders and keep extra manna overnight until it becomes putrid; they sow doubt in the community about entering the Holy Land. The Talmud says of these two unsavory characters, “They were evil from their beginning to their end.” 

So why are these lifelong rapscallions described as “the chosen of the assembly” (Num. 26:9)? Why are they the ones selected to receive advice directly from Moses and Aaron? The Chofetz Chaim (1838-1933) explains that sometimes, those who misbehave must be sent away from the community. But in other cases, banishment only causes further damage. Here, Moses and Aaron’s role is to help the troublemakers mend their ways despite the prominent chip on their shoulders. Dealing with difficult people, rather than avoiding them, is an opportunity for our own spiritual growth. Rabbi Moshe Kormornick illustrates this lesson with a parable:

Reuven and Shimon meet in Heaven. In life, Reuven was very needy, his observance was shaky and he required a lot of attention. Shimon was a dedicated and religious Jew and spent great energy keeping Reuven on the right path. When they meet in heaven, Shimon is delighted and exclaims, “Reuven, I’m so glad that I got you here!” “Actually,” replies Reuven, “it was me who got you here!”

Image: “The Punishment of Korach, Dathan and Abiram” by Botticelli, 1482

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