Prophetic Fallibility and Divine Immutability?
In the midst of Korach's rebellion, Hashem commands Moshe to separate from the "עדה" before He destroys them. Moshe responds: "If one man sinned, will you destroy the entire 'עדה'?", to which Hashem replies by telling Moshe to separate the "עדה" from the dwellings of Korach, Datan, and Aviram. Due to the ambiguous identity of the "עדה" in each of the above statements, this brief dialogue raises a host of questions:
- Collective punishment – Was Hashem really threatening to impose collective punishment on the entire nation for the crimes of a minority? When is collective punishment legitimate?
- Prophetic fallibility – Is it possible that Moshe misunderstood Hashem's intent, and when Hashem initially used the word "עדה", He was referring not to the entire nation, but only to Korach's followers? Can prophets make mistakes and do they sometimes misunderstand Divine communications? If yes, is this true regarding Moshe as well?
- Divine immutability – Did Hashem change His course after Moshe's intercession? Does that suggest that Hashem's initial thoughts were wrong? If God is immutable, how can He change His mind?
- Debate these issues at your Shabbat table using Dialogue with the Divine During Korach's Rebellion as a guide.
Ibn Ezra suggests that the rebel camp was comprised of different factions of malcontents, who were united in their disappointment over the selection of the Tribe of Levi to be Priests and Levites. He asserts that the "נשיאי עדה" were the firstborns who were disgruntled over losing their priestly status, while there was also a group of the Levites themselves who were upset about having to serve Aharon.
- Do you think that these two groups could have formed a successful coalition? Is there any evidence in the text that a large percentage of the rebels were firstborns, or that the rebellion was composed of various groups, each with a different agenda?
- Ibn Ezra assumes that the Levites were selected right before our story, which he dates to the beginning of the second year. What textual evidence is there for his assertion? What impact does it have on the dating of other events in the Torah? See Selection of the Priests and Levites.
- According to those who disagree with Ibn Ezra, what else might have prompted the rebellion? What might the complaint of Datan and Aviram suggest?
Korach in Art
Compare various depictions of Datan and Aviram's punishment as an entree into a discussion of the following questions:
- What was the nature of the miracle of the earth opening up? Was this a full fledged earthquake, a sinkhole, or a heretofore unknown phenomenon?
- Were only Datan and Aviram and their families swallowed by the earth, or was Korach killed along with them?1 Which verses could support each position?
- What was the role of the larger nation in the rebellion? Were they simply innocent bystanders, or did they either actively or passively support Korach?
- For related artwork and analysis, see Korach's Fate in Art.