parshat korach, numbers 16-18
Join Geoffey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on June 30th 2022 on Clubhouse as we take a fresh look at Korach’s rebellion. Dathan and Abiram refer to Egypt as a Land Flowing with Milk and Honey and defy Moses even were he to offer fields and vineyards in a land flowing with milk & honey. What does the Biblical “Flowing with Milk & Honey” mean?
Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. Today we we take a fresh look at Korach’s rebellion. Dathan and Abiram, Korach’s sons refer to Egypt as a Land Flowing with Milk and Honey and defy Moses even were he to offer fields and vineyards in a land flowing with milk & honey. What does the Biblical “Flowing with Milk & Honey” mean? Join us today’s episode: Milk and Money
Well, welcome. You know, every week I try to figure out what am I going to talk about that we didn’t talk about last year. And last year, we talked about, the Midrash that said that cholera and all of the 250 Levites, showed up in a Talit She’kulo Techelet, in a garment that was all blue. And this year, I read the text afresh without any Midrashim, and I discovered, as you could tell in the intro, that there was something I had never noticed before. And it was a reference to what everybody knows is a namesake of the Land of Israel, “a land of milk and honey”. So we are in Numbers 16 and Korach obviously comes in front of Moses, and he started to rebellion. And the punchline of his rebellion is You have gone too far. רַב־לָכֶם֒. And he says, when did you raise yourselves above God’s congregation, מַדּ֥וּעַ תִּֽתְנַשְּׂא֖וּ עַל־קְהַ֥ל ה’ and Moses fell on his face. And Moses made a test that everybody should gather the next day with pans of incense. And whoever’s offering would be accepted, that would prove that God was on their side. And then we get to verse 12. And it says Moses sent for Moses sent for Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab. But they said, We will not come. So Moses asked for these guys to come and they wouldn’t come and the said as follows. Is it not enough that you brought us from a land flowing with milk and honey, to have us die in the wilderness, that you would also lord it over to us? Even even if you had brought us to a land flowing with milk and honey, and even if you had given us possession of fields and vineyards should you gouge out the eyes of those involved? We will not come. So had you ever noticed this? I’m sure you had. But what do you make of the textual argument? Number one, I had never realized that the land of Egypt that you know we always refer to as the fleshpots of Egypt, where you could have watermelon and all of this stuff that it was referred to as a land flowing with milk and honey. And I never heard this argument where, it almost sounds like the lady does protest too much. When somebody says even if you offer me this, I will come you kind of get a sense of what bothers them. And they said even if you were to give us fields and vineyards and gouge out our eyes, we wouldn’t come. What do you make of all this?
Adam Mintz 04:11
Yeah, so that’s kind of funny. You know, when you rebel against somebody, sometimes the arguments aren’t logical. It’s interesting that you mentioned last year, how the rabbi’s try to make Korach’s argument very logical, you know, he says, You know, does, does a garment that’s all blue need tzitzit that are blue. That’s a house that’s fulfilled with Jewish books need a mezuzah? That’s very logical. But actually, if you look at the text, the text is the opposite. The argument that they make is not really very logical, because the argument that they make is really that, even if you would have given us good things, we still wouldn’t have come and you know what, that’s a lie. That’s just a lie. It’s not true. They want good things. What they don’t want is they don’t want Moses telling them what to do. So I think it’s interesting just to play the text against the rabbinic interpretation.
Geoffrey Stern 05:17
So I totally agree with you. But I literally am stepping back and I am just listening to what they say. And you know, I kind of joked and said, maybe the lady protest too much Me thinks from Shakespeare. But if you remember back when Abraham wanted to buy a burial place for his wife, Sarah, and he’s talking to a Hittite Prince called Ephron. And Ephron says, you know, take it for free, we want to give it to you. And Abraham’s constantly says, No, I want to buy it, I want to buy it. So Ephron finally says, My Lord listen to me a piece of land worth 400 shekels of silver, what’s that between me and you? And of course, that was a hefty sub, not a bargain. And Abraham settled for that amount. And I really think that the text in a literary fashion and historic fashion, is doing the same thing with Dathan and Aviram. And when they say, let’s forget about the reference to milk and honey, but when they say, even if you had given us possessions of fields and vineyards, we would not come. I learned from that, that that’s what’s bothering them. And of course, we’ve touched upon this many times on the podcast, that what makes the tribe of Levi and the Kohanim subset unique is that they did not have fields and vineyards, their portion was God’s. And I think that once you look at the argument from that perspective, and then you go back and even read רַב־לָכֶם֒ maybe that’s their arguments, they are protesting that Moses and Aaron made this ridiculous decision, in their mind, to forego the possession of fields and vineyards. And they’ve taken on too much. And they are holier than thou. And these guys want to have fields like everybody else. I’ve not seen anybody give this explanation. But what do you think of it? Rabbi?
Adam Mintz 07:36
I liked that explanation. Let’s go one step at a time. Who were they rebelling against? Are they rebelling against Moses or rebelling against Aaron, or rebelling against the whole system? I think there are three options.
Geoffrey Stern 07:51
Well, I mean, I think even if you say that we’re building against the whole system, since Aaron and Moses and God are part of the system, they’re rebelling against the whole shebang.
Adam Mintz 08:05
Right. I’m in agreement with you. I think that they’re rebelling against the whole shebang.
Geoffrey Stern 08:12
And I think for us moderns and even not so moderns even those under the influence of Greek democracy it’s very easy to say רַב־לָכֶם֒, you’ve taken too much, which is you have special rights and privileges and we should have that too. And of course for a Levi to make that argument it’s not as strong as an argument as with a Yisrael making it for a Levi saying to a Cohen you’re taking too much …. correct me if I’m wrong… yes, for Cohen has certain obligations and also privileges that outrank a LEVI So even if a Levi is eating food that is holy in sacrifice to him, he might take off Terumah … a 10th and give it to the Cohen, but ultimately, he’s part of the same system so it’s kind of tenuous for a Levi to argue to a Cohen you know, why are you is so exclusive. I want to have all the privileges you have but God forbid I will be a Pushut Yisrael, a simple Israelite
Adam Mintz 09:21
Well, that’s that’s what’s interesting. They really want they want Aaron’s position, or Korach wants Aaron’s position. It’s almost as if he says Moshe, it’s okay. Moshe got when Moshe got but why did they why did they get two in the family? That’s not fair. See, what I’m really arguing is the nepotism comes in Aaron, not in Moshe. That’s my argument. Moshe is chosen by God. That goes back to the burning bush Aaron It sounds like maybe he’s chosen by Moses. And that’s not fair because Aaron’s his brother, I’m just raising that as an option.
Geoffrey Stern 10:09
Okay, so now I continue leading the posture, and for the rest of chapter 16 that we started with. And so the whole of chapter 17, it goes into what happens. So just to review quickly, the earth opens up, and the earth swallows, Korach, and his 250 co-rebels. And then God is still angry and says enough already with these people, and a plague begins. And now we’re getting hundreds and 1000s of other Israelites who are guilt by association… and then we get, and this blew me away to Numbers 18. And starting with Numbers 18: 8, it says God spoke further to Aaron. And he starts delineating exactly what privileges the tribe of Aaron gets. In verse 9, he says, this shall be used from the Most Holy sacrifices, the offerings by fire, every such offering that they render to me as most totally sacrifices, namely, every meal offering sin offering guilt offering of their shall belong, he says זֶֽה־יִהְיֶ֥ה לְךָ֛ מִקֹּ֥דֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁ֖ים. Same, basically, he’s saying, all of those things that I promised you, you still get. And then he goes on in 11. And he goes, This too shall be us the gift to offerings, the elevation offerings I gave to you and your wives, your sons into the daughters that are with you, as a due for all time, every one of your household. And then it continues in verse 13, the first fruits the Bikurim of everything in their land that they bring to God shall be yours, every one of your household who is pure may eat. And he goes on and he says, their meat shall be yours, it shall be yours, like the breast of elevation, so forth and so on. And it shall be an everlasting covenant of salt before God for you and for your offspring. And then he goes on to say in verse 20, and God said to Aaron, you shall, however, have no territorial share among them, while own any portion in their midst. I am your portion, and your share among the Israelites, and to the Levites. I hereby give all the types in Israel as their share in return for the services they perform the services of the tent of meeting. And finally, in verse 23, he says, but they shall have no territorial share among the Israelites לֹ֥א יִנְחֲל֖וּ נַחֲלָֽה. So I’m reading this from the context of this throwaway comment that that Datan and Aviram said, we’re even if you were to give us land, even if you were to give us vineyards, we wouldn’t come. And I interpret that to be the crux of their their complaint. And here at the end, the parsha ends with a formal delineation not only of what they have, but that they have no territory. To me. It’s a complete literary unit and it absolutely bakes the whole argument from beginning to end.
Adam Mintz 13:42
Yeah, that’s interesting. So what do you make of it? I like that. What do you make of that? So what is that? What happens to the argument?
Geoffrey Stern 13:51
So it seems to me that the argument is basically one of crass materialism that the Levites and Korach are saying you gave away too much, you were too holy. We also want territory, we also want vineyards, what have you done to us? And God Moses, Aaron rejects their claim. And we learned about the whole thing, as we will find out later on. There is a tradition that Datan and Aviram survived. We’ll get to that later. But for now, after all of that is done. This is the formal legislation about this amazing concept that we talked about for many times. Where in Egypt. The priests were the gods. The priests were the ultimate power. They had material power. They were the ones that Joseph didn’t take taxes from them. They had the honey; they had the milk. And they owned the afterlife, which is ultimately the final arbiter of power, especially if you look at the Catholic Church where it’s all about getting into the pearly gates. And here, the revolution of our people in the desert at Sinai was it took them from them, Moses and Aaron gave it freely. And Korach is giving one final rebellion against that. And here we have it resolved. So what do you take of my argument, Rabbi?
Adam Mintz 15:38
I think you say I think you argument is interesting. First of all, the rebellion, let’s kind of take a step back. I like your argument a lot. The rebellion, so I raised the question whether the rebellion was against Moshe, or the rebellions against Aaron. My next question is, rebellions always reflect a weakness in the leadership? You only have a rebellion when the leader is weak? How does your argument relate to that? Are Moses and Aaron weak? And is that what Korach and Dotan and Aviram are pushing they do they see a weakness? Do they see a problem? What do you think?
Geoffrey Stern 16:23
Look, I’m going to cut it short, because I want to hear from Nachum. But I think whenever you have a revolutionary movement, ultimately, you get to a point where there’s a falling out. And the inner group breaks apart, whether it’s a Trotsky and a Lenin. And I think this is a revolutionary idea. I think the weakness of the idea is how radical it is. And I think that Korach is showing us ….. that’s the importance of cola. He is the straw dummy, who shows us just how radical a move it was, by God, by the Toba, by by Moses and Aaron. Nachum, welcome to the Bimah!
Neil (Nachum) Twersky 17:09
So as I’m saying, I don’t totally agree with your interpretation, Geoffrey. I feel that really Korach was trying to usurp first the power of Moshe and that he had the right as, if you will interpreter of Humash its legacy and Jewish decisior. And therefore, the reason I raised the question of two miracles, is the second rebellion was really against the priesthood. And that, that was relegated to Aaron, in the level of that he convened, which was spirituality. Hence, the first miracle is what happened. You know, the earth swallows up a bunch of people then he was spared because Moses intervened the second miracle, which you didn’t relate to, when you’re going through your verses comes afterwards. It’s when God commands that they set up their staffs and see what happens. And the only staff that blossoms is Aaron. That’s a symbol that his staff blossom, convincing people that the rebellion against Him was one of spirituality. In fact, Rav Aaron Soloveitchik, interpreted that the reason that his staff was made of shaked, I’m not sure what shaked is….
Geoffrey Stern 18:43
is it not an almond. Is it an almond?
Neil (Nachum) Twersky 18:48
Right, but etymologically, supposably, at least according to Rav Aahron Soleveichik an almond anyplace it’s planted, it can be blossom. So in any event, there are two miracles. There are two rebellions, … not that they weren’t against both of them, but one against Moshe, because of his interpretation of Torah was a threat to his leadership. And the second one against the spiritual leadership of Aaron, hence his staff blossomed, maybe, indicating spirituality can grow any place.
Adam Mintz 19:36
So let’s go back Geoffrey to your interpretation. So at the crux of my interpretation, and I said it’s all about the money. I want, I went into the rabbinic texts. And you know, we don’t know a lot about Korach. One of the rabbinic texts in the Talmud, Pesachim 119a says that he was one of the richest men of all times. So the rabbi’s took it upon themselves to say, you know, he actually worked for Joseph. And he found out where the riches….. , it’s kind of reads like Raiders of the Lost Ark, you know that there were these riches that were brought down from Canaan into Egypt. And they came back to Israel in Solomon’s time we know from my talk with the Reverend how they went to Kush. And they went to so Korach is targeted as a very rich person. And you know, the other rich person that disappears by the rabbinic tradition at this time, is our old friend Nachshon. Who the legend has it also was the only one disappears. He should have been part of the spies last week and he wasn’t
Geoffrey Stern 20:56
Correct. And the Rabbi’s, you know, they only have good things to say about him. But one thing that they say that’s not so good, is that when Nachshon brought his offering, it says he bought his offering on the first day and the rabbi’s interpret this to mean that whereas the other nesi’im, the princes got the offering from their tribe Nachshon was rich, and he got his own, he had his own money. So I think one of the takeaways even that made it to the rabbinic tradition is that again, feeding into what I was saying that Korach was actually interested in having…. he didn’t want the whole Cohen thing. He didn’t want the whole Levi thing. He wanted a possession. He wanted a nachla in the land. And it’s all about crass capitalism. And I just wonder, do you feel that there was a thread in rabbinic tradition that had an issue with wealth? I mean, we certainly see plenty of instances where there were certain great scholars who were very wealthy and all that,
Adam Mintz 22:09
In the Torah is very important. Nobody is wealthy in the Torah. Avraham as a lot of flocks, and actually it gets him in trouble. Because with Lot he has a problem, because they’re both wealthy and they fight with one another. Wealth is not a value in the Torah.
Geoffrey Stern 22:29
So certainly, in the beginning, I stayed away from the rabbinic interpretations. And I said, Let’s just read the text. And I gave an interpretation. And now looking at the rabbinic there is a little bit of a reference to that, that he was a wealthy man looking out for his vested interests. So I think that’s one thing. And I think, in a sense, his interpretation of a land flowing with milk and honey, he compared the land of Egypt and the land of Israel. Talking about what you were saying Nachum about the spiritual aspect, he didn’t see the spiritual aspect. He saw Egypt as a rich country, as crass as it was, how it had slaves and how it took advantage of people… No he looked back with great nostalgia and when he said, If you promise me the land of Canaan is a land flowing with milk and honey, he saw it as a parallel, and he wanted a piece of it. So so that’s how I see it. And that’s, I think, the first interpretation that we get of a land flowing with milk and honey, and for the remaining time, I thought we would talk about what actually a land flowing with milk and honey has been taken to mean. And I think, you know, the most obvious is, it’s a sign of fertility. If you look at Exodus 3: 8, where God says, I have come down to rescue them from the Egyptians and to bring them out of that land to a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey, the region of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. This concept of fertility, this concept of flowing which almost has a sensual aspect to it, I mean, if you think of the word Zav, normally when we come across the words of it has to do with almost with, with issues and bodily functions and sensuality and sex. So I think that the way that we take it is one that’s very central if you look at the Song of Songs 4: 11 It says Sweetness drops From your lips, O bride; Honey and milk Are under your tongue; And the scent of your robes Is like the scent of Lebanon. So I think that in our tradition, not in Korach’s tradition, we saw a land oozing, flowing with milk and honey as something that was set aside and was a differentiator from a land of Egypt. And I think that’s the most basic interpretation. What does land flowing with milk and honey mean to you?
Adam Mintz 25:31
So, though it’s different than Egypt, even though Egypt was clearly a very prosperous land, milk and honey, Egypt is never described as milk and honey, but Egypt, actually, the Nile River is what makes Egypt successful, isn’t that right? Everything’s around the Nile. Pharaohs around the Nile. He’s always at the Nile. It’s not milk and honey, it’s water, it’s River. It’s something like that. But milk and honey represents a flowing, You say flowing like Zab is sensual or sexual. I think flowing is continuous.
Geoffrey Stern 26:21
And what I should have emphasized when I said sexual, I was getting back to fertility, it’s very fertile.
Adam Mintz 26:28
I think that’s part of it. When you flow, it continues to go when the river flows, it continues to go.
Geoffrey Stern 26:37
And the flipside of fertility is infertility. So whereas the Nile was dependable, and didn’t give rise to a nation that prayed for rain, and was dependent on the heavens and the spiritual, I think that again, is part of what makes milk and honey so important and the flow. If you take milk to mean cow’s milk or goat’s milk, and if you take honey, and we’re going to get into whether it’s bees honey, or honey, from dates, fruit juice, you could also maybe say that, it’s a lamb that combines agriculture, with herding
Adam Mintz 27:23
Oh, that’s interesting. I didn’t think of that. You could explain it that way that it covers both.
Geoffrey Stern 27:30
So let’s talk about a little bit about honey devash, which I think most people on the street if you would ask them, they would say, oh, It’s bee’s honey, right. So as fascinating as it may seem, we need to go to the Talmud to confirm that bee’s honey is kosher. Because there is a principle that what emerges from a non kosher animal is non kosher. And that is in Bekorot 5b. And the Gemora in Bekorot 5b and the Gomorrah in 7b raises the question, and it says, what do the sages say about honey of bees? Is it permitted? And they give two reasons that it’s, it’s permitted. One is because they bring the nectar from the flowers into their body, but they do not excrete it from their body. So the first is that all the work of the bees are worker bees, so they process the nectar. And so it you’re not eating something that comes from a bee. And then Rav Sheshet stated his answer in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Ya’akov, who says that with regard to honey, the Merciful One permits it as an exception to the principle that a substance that emerges from a non-kosher animal is non-kosher. who said that actually, we have a special verse. The verse says In Leviticus, yes, these may you eat of all winged creatures. Why does it say these, and the rabbi’s say you may not eat a non kosher winged creature, but you may eat that which is non kosher when creature discharges. And what is that? That is the honey of bees. So it’s fascinating. If you think about it, especially if you think of Rosh Hashan or you think of when a child starts to study Torah that they lick each word covered with honey, that bee honey is kosher, by way of either some biological knowledge on the part of the rabbi’s or by a special verse that permits us to eat it. And I think that is kind of fascinating.
Adam Mintz 29:32
That is absolutely fascinating. That’s so interesting. Well, first of all, it’s interesting, just the discussion about bee honey, and the fact that something that comes from a non-kosher animal is not kosher. Why bee honey is an exception. That itself is fascinating, right? Just the Talmudic discussion is fascinating. And I think it’s not the subject matter of today’s talk… But if you want to talk about a woman’s right to her body what most of Talmudic law states is what is in the womb of a female animal or person is part and parcel of that female mother. And if she’s tameh she’s tameh… if a cow is shechted, slaughtered with an embryo inside, the embryo doesn’t need to be slaughtered. We have a very strong tradition of identifying what’s inside of a mother, with the mother, just as an aside. But in any case, that’s honey. And I think that it’s fascinating to think that something as we associate so strongly with our religion, is nonetheless something that needs to be debated. And it’s true if you if you do a Google search about vegans, vegans are debate whether they can eat honey, That’s correct. There are some vegans who do eat honey and some vegans don’t eat honey and that’s basically the two opinions in the Gomora.
Geoffrey Stern 31:03
So the other opinion is that Devash is a from a date. And in Deuteronomy, for instance, when it lists the famous Shiva minim, the seven species, the last one is “and honey”, and it certainly doesn’t mean bee’s honey.
Adam Mintz 31:20
Correct… that’s definitely date honey.
Geoffrey Stern 31:22
So if that’s the case, then certainly we have something about agriculture and the milk that I think is very nice.
Adam Mintz 31:32
,And I think we just we can finish off with Nachum’s point, the fact that the staff blossomed, also has to do with agriculture.
Geoffrey Stern 31:43
Adam Mintz 31:44
I think your point is, right, and the fact that the symbol, you know, that that, you know, that that Moses and Aaron were right, was the fact that the that the staff blossomed, that’s part of this whole thing. So the way that I want to finish, and I told you in the pre story I was going to mention this is there is a tradition that the two sons of Korah actually survived. And there’s also a tradition that there’s a special Psalm that we say, every day, and on the psalm of Monday, which in the creation, narrative, God does not say “it is good”. We all know on Tuesday, he says, Pa’amiyim ki tov, on Monday, he doesn’t say ki Tov once, because that’s when God made a division. And he made a division between heaven and earth. And Korach is associated with trying to make a division. And on Monday, we say Psalm 48, which is one of eight I believe, Psalms that are in the name of l’Bnai Korach the children of Korach, who the tradition feels somehow are in a unique position from down in that pit that was swallowed by the earth, to sing the praise of God and try to bring the parts back together. And I think the takeaway from that, and the fact that we have honey from a bee who might not be all together kosher is that as Shlomo Carlebach said, “you never know”. You never know where purity can come from. And that at the end of the day, is this sweetness that comes out of a very bitter story of Korach. Fantastic. I love the end. Shabbat shalom, everybody. Next week, I’ll be coming to you from Jerusalem. We’re going to do it at 4pm New York Time 11pm Israel time, can’t wait to speak to you from Jerusalem. Shabbat shalom. Enjoy the Parsha be well.
Geoffrey Stern 33:35
Shabbat Shalom to everybody have a great one.
Listen to last week’s episode: Make Challah