Taking Sides

Today’s ‘Parashah’ {פרשה} (weekly Torah portion) is ‘Korach’ {קורח} (named after the biblical figure ‘Korah’). This is the fifth ‘Parashah’ in the Book of Numbers

and can be found in Numbers 16:1–18:32.

The meaning of the Hebrew name ‘Korah’ is ‘baldness’ (it has also other meanings). According to the ‘Midrash’ {מדרש} (an old Jewish lesson) the reason for Korah’s unique name is because he made a ‘hole’ inside of the people of Israel. The old Hebrew word for ‘hole’ (in this sense) and the word for ‘bald spot’ is the same – Koracha, which comes from the same Hebrew root as Korah’s name (K-R-H {ק-ר-ח}) – and that is the reason the Midrash used that particular word. Korah made this ‘hole’ by his dispute with Moses and Aaron:

“Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took (men). And they rose up before Moses, with a number of the people of Israel, 250 chiefs of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men. They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?” (Numbers 16:1-4)

If you read closely, in the first verse you will notice the word ‘took’ that appears at the end just before the word in the parentheses (men). Well, in the original Hebrew the word ‘Va-Yikach’ {ויקח} (‘and he took’) is at the beginning of the sentence and there is no sign for the word ‘men,’ which appears in the English translation at the parentheses, at all!

According to some of the Jewish Bible commentators, the meaning of the Hebrew word ‘Va-Yikach’ (‘and he took’) in this verse is ‘to take a side’ as to take a side in an argument or disputation – which is clearly what Korah did.

They (the Jewish Bible commentators) based their interpretation on the Aramaic translation of the Bible, which translated the word ‘Va-Yikach’ (‘and he took’) as ‘Va-Itplaig’ {ואיתפליג} in Aramaic, which can be understood as both ‘took’ and ‘disagreed’ in English.