Dialogue with the Divine During Korach's Rebellion


Abundant Ambiguity

After accusing Moshe and Aharon of raising themselves above the nation of Israel ("עֲדַת יִשְׂרָאֵל"), Korach and his 250 men ("קֹרַח וְכׇל עֲדָתוֹ") assemble at the Mishkan to participate in the incense test, designed to establish who has been chosen by Hashem. The Torah then records a series of verses which include a somewhat enigmatic conversation between Hashem and Moshe:

(יט) וַיַּקְהֵל עֲלֵיהֶם קֹרַח אֶת כׇּל הָעֵדָה אֶל פֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וַיֵּרָא כְבוֹד ה' אֶל כׇּל הָעֵדָה.
(כ-כא) וַיְדַבֵּר ה' אֶל מֹשֶׁה וְאֶל אַהֲרֹן לֵאמֹר. הִבָּדְלוּ מִתּוֹךְ הָעֵדָה הַזֹּאת וַאֲכַלֶּה אֹתָם כְּרָגַע.
(כב) וַיִּפְּלוּ עַל פְּנֵיהֶם וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵל אֱלֹהֵי הָרוּחֹת לְכׇל בָּשָׂר הָאִישׁ אֶחָד יֶחֱטָא וְעַל כׇּל הָעֵדָה תִּקְצֹף.
(כג-כד) וַיְדַבֵּר ה' אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר. דַּבֵּר אֶל הָעֵדָה לֵאמֹר הֵעָלוּ מִסָּבִיב לְמִשְׁכַּן קֹרַח דָּתָן וַאֲבִירָם.
(19) And Korach gathered the entire congregation (edah) against them to the opening of the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of Hashem appeared to the entire congregation (edah).
(20-21) And Hashem spoke to Moshe and Aharon saying: "Separate yourselves from among this congregation (edah) and I will consume them in a moment."
(22) And they fell on their face and said: "God, God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin and you will be angry with the whole congregation (edah)?"
(23-24) And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying: "Speak to the congregation (edah), saying, 'Ascend from around the tent of Korach, Datan and Aviram.'"

Each of these verses1 employs the term "הָעֵדָה",‎2 but in all of them it is unclear whether the word refers to the congregation of Korach or the people of Israel at large.3 This results in a series of open questions:

Theological Significance

As a result of the above textual ambiguities, there are multiple possible scenarios which can be reconstructed regarding each of the characters involved.

These uncertainties, in turn, leave the reader with some profound theological questions:

In Approaches, we will examine the widely diverging readings of this story, and how their various proponents struggle with the implications for religious dogma.