Korach by Rabbi David Hartley Mark


by Rabbi David Hartley Mark


I am Datan; perhaps you have heard of me. Yes, it’s true: my brother Aviram and I joined in Korach’s Rebellion. When the earth split open by the might of the LORD GOD and the command of Moses, we and the 250 Elders, poor fools!—fell down into Hell, alive. That was no picnic; since our Hebraic Hell has no Devil to supervise (as I hear the Nazarenes believe; I am a bit of a prophet, doncha know?), we flit about aimlessly, in a type of Jacob’s Sheol, the Afterlife of Silence. To have been a talkative Hebrew and to be condemned to eternal quiet—well, that is punishment enough.

We cannot even recognize one another—I have not seen my brother Aviram or that rabble-rouser, Korach, for—oh, a trillion millennia now, with no end in sight—that’s what God means by “eternal punishment.” All for one mistake, mind you, though it was a big one. And I will never reconcile with Moses—it would be well-nigh impossible, since he occupies a seat in the Highest Heaven—that is what I heard from a Fallen Cherub, who used to support Moses’s reading-desk, from which my despised rival read his Torah. Why did the Cherub fall from such a lofty position? He was bored, if you can believe an angel can be bored, and so, he rebelled. Ah, well—

Why did all of us rebels hate Moses so much, you ask? I will answer your question in the Jewish manner, with a question of my own. Friend Stranger, do you believe it possible for someone—a mighty prophet, say, with the ear of God at his beck and call—to be so, so humble, that his humility becomes a form of pride? Oh ho, you would not believe that of Moses, the Humblest in the Land, you say. Well, I suppose we will just have to agree to disagree. Still, the Moses I knew (and sometimes, though not frequently, respected) became so over-busy, that he began to believe that it was he, not God, performing all the miracles. Yes! And so, we—I, Brother Aviram, and Korach, that headstrong fool—resolved to put him in his place.

Mind you, we didn’t really wish to take over the High Priesthood—all of us were far too lazy to pretend to high levels of prophecy or altar work. We were making a point. After all, the entire Congregation was holy, and the Spirit of God rested upon all of them. Why, then, should only the Levites be qualified to serve God? Why not a Zebuloni, or a Benjaminite? I have even heard a word for this sort of endeavor: Democracy. Call us ahead of our time, but we heard that some city-states in far-off Greece were attempting that same sort of—experiment. And we Jews pride ourselves on our equality—except for counting women, of course.

Why not women? Well, I will tell you a dead man’s secret: women are superior to us men. They have a native intelligence and sensibilities that we bloviating fellows lack. We did not include them in our—uprising—because the women were far stronger in their religious beliefs than the men; that’s why we were able to entice fully 250 rebels against the Established Order. But never once did I think of approaching Miriam, or even Zipporah, to join our revolt. No: this bold strike against the tyranny of the Amramite Brothers, Moses and Aaron, was to be a masculine project, only.

Here’s another query I have about the aftermath of our rebellion: why did God command that our fallen incense-pans be collected, and used for the Divine Service? Why would the Deity allow the use of pans polluted by the Sin of Rebellion? Call it a Godly requisition of the pans, butI refuse to accept it. What, is our God greedy?

Anyway, Stranger, since you, like that Dante fellow or the Greek Orpheus, have descended from your Post-Modern Era to our Underworld, can you answer a few questions of mine? How is Judaism—I believe that that is what it’s called—conducted in your New Century? What’s that you say? That you pray together, with no sacrifice, no incense, and no High Priesthood? Well! That is well-nigh unbelievable—but I will venture a guess why Judaism has taken that direction: it’s all thanks to our rebellion, don’t you see. We were the first to strike out courageously for Religious Freedom, and you, our great-great-(well, you get the idea)-grandchildren, are reaping the benefits.

Well, that satisfies me: our rebellion caused a great deal of good. I must remember to tell Brother Aviram, and perhaps that blowhard Korach, if I ever find them, down here. Shalom—good-bye, Stranger; don’t let Cerberus bite you on your way past the Gate of Horn. Farewell!

Rabbi David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance.

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