Korach (Numbers 16:1−18:32)

A very intense portion. Last week’s reading ended with what seemed like a calming set of instructions concerning when (not if) the Israelites (actually, the next generation) would enter Canaan. But that was a moment of calm before a series of explosions, rebellions against the authority of Moses and Aaron and thus, by extension, the Lord’s authority, though the rebels likely didn’t appreciate that. Korach is a Levite malcontent who is particularly jealous of the priests, joins with Reubenite malcontents Dathan and Abiram, who, as descendants of Jacob’s firstborn son, resent their plebeian status. (A third Reubenite, On ben Pelet, seems to have been part of the gang only temporarily; rabbinical commentators teach that either his wife persuaded him he to do so or else she made sure he drank enough wine he that slept through it all.) they are joined by 250 community leaders. Granted, everyone is upset at having to wander in the wilderness for the rest of their lives instead of living in a land of milk and honey. But the rebels are especially disrespectful to Moses and Aaron; for instance, Dathan and Abiram not only refuse to come at Moses’ bidding, but snidely complain (16:12-14) that he’d brought them from a land flowing with milk and honey (Egypt). Moses sets up a demonstration to prove his authority (will the rebels’ incense offering be accepted?) and the whole community gathers with the rebels. Not for the last time, the Lord threatens to destroy the community, but Moses and Aaron persuade otherwise. Instead, the earth opens up (not an earthquake but a singular physical phenomenon – 16:30) to swallow the households of Korach, Dathan, and Abiram and a fire consumes the 250 who tried to offer incense. Does this quiet the people ,at least shock them into silence? No way. Now they blame Moses and Aaron for the deaths of the rebels, so, the Lord once again needs to be persuaded not to annihilate the people. A plague is sent instead. 14,700 die before Aaron can make expiation on behalf on the people and the plague is checked. Then Aaron’s authority is further legitimized and the roles and perks of the priests (Aaron’s house) and Levites are described.

It is easy for us in a democratic society to be seduced by the rallying cry that all the people are holy, so why should Moses and Aaron raise themselves above them (16:3). However, the people are not yet holy. They’ve been told they are supposed to become a kingdom of priests and a holy people. They’re not there yet. And the authority of Moses and Aaron is legitimate, whereas Korach et al. are seizing an opportunity amidst chaos to advance themselves. There is nothing to indicate they would set up a democratic society. Maybe anarchy, or Tea Party-style limited government. Last year, I referred to a play about Korach as an anarchist who is destroyed for his heretical challenge to the political order (

http://forward.com/articles/134438/ )

. More likely, I think Korach would simply have taken over after. First there’s be a triumvirate of Korach, Dathan, and Abiram, then a bloody civil war. I always think about two Woody Allen movies in connection with this portion: Sleeper (1973), in which rebel leader Erno (tall, handsome, Aryan type) seems slated for future dictatorship, and Bananas (1971), in which rebel leader Esposito does become dictator with concomitant insanity. Thus is my horror at this portion mitigated with absurdity.

Shabbat shalom,




Cold War Joke
A Russian citizen is trying to protest against the communist regime, therefore he throws leaflets, papers around on the Red Square in Moscow. KGB agents arrest him and question him, then they observe that there was nothing on the papers, they were all plain white.
The KGB agents ask him why the papers are white, then the prisoner replies: “It’s obvious anyway, why should I write it down?”
Tea Party-ing
“Some Americans did a very dumb thing today. They had tea party protests. They’ve been mailing tea bags to Congress to I guess express their dissatisfaction with taxes and government spending because nothing shakes a politician up like a complimentary bag of tea. ‘Hey if you don’t straighten up next year, crumpets, buddy.'” –Jimmy Kimmel


Memorable Quotes – Bananas (1971)

[if you want context, a plot summary is at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0066808/plotsummary ]

Esposito: From this day on, the official language of San Marcos will be Swedish. Silence! In addition to that, all citizens will be required to change their underwear every half-hour. Underwear will be worn on the outside so we can check. Furthermore, all children under 16 years old are now… 16 years old!

Fielding Mellish: What’s the Spanish word for straitjacket?



Remember the earthquake last August? I think it was my third. I slept through one in college that cracked the sidewalk. Then on a business trip to Pasadena, a 5.5 earthquake caused my hotel bed to shake front and back for maybe 30 seconds. Last August, I was shaken at work, and by the time I realized I should do…something, it was over.



More ‘earthquake damage’, from


 [See also  http://i282.photobucket.com/albums/kk252/babaganoosh69/neverforget.jpg ]

A roundup of funniest jokes and Tweets about the earthquake on the East Coast:

“They felt the earthquake at Martha’s Vineyard. It was so bad, President Obama nearly missed a putt.”  –David Letterman
“Apparently there’s a crack in the Washington Monument. Calm down, Marion Barry, I said ‘a crack.’   –Craig Ferguson
“After the earthquake on the East Coast, they found Mayor Bloomberg standing under his desk.”    –David Letterman


Virginia quake: Top five political jokes on Twitter
The Virginia earthquake prompted evacuations of the Pentagon, White House, and Congress. And the quake triggered an outpouring of political jokes on Twitter.
By David Clark Scott, Staff / August 23, 2011

In the aftermath (meaning within the first minutes) after the magnitude 5.9 Virginia earthquake Tuesday, the twittersphere responded with compassion, concern – and political humor.

No one has been reported killed in the quake, but some of the attempts at comedy may have caused serious injuries. While some Twitter contributors criticized the ribald responsse, others simply noted the social media phenomenon.

“WHEN A QUAKE STRIKES: Step 1, tweet that you felt it. Step 2, RT where else it happened. Step 3, crack current-affairs-related cause jokes,” tweeted Emma Godmere.
Here’s a quick scan of the best five Virginia Earthquake Political Jokes, so far.

@tpcarneyThe Washington Examiner‘s Timothy P. Carney wrote: “Krugman says it wasn’t big enough.”

@TheTweetOfGod wrote: “There was just a 6.0 earthquake in DC.  Obama wanted it to be 3.4, but the Republicans wanted 6.0, so he compromised.”

@murphymike, GOP political consultant:  “Bachmann out first with statement: as President she’ll lower quakes to 2.9…”

@steveweinstein Steve Weinstein: Shorter Romney: earthquakes are people, my friends.”

We said five, but as a bonus, here’s our favorite non-political quake joke:

@riptor riptor   “My etch-a-sketch gallery! It’s RUINED!”

(Ironically, this became a political joke the following March! See, e.g., http://selfdeprecate.com/political-cartoons/mitt-romney-2012-etchasketch-gaffe/ )

Seen any good quake jokes tweeted, post them in the comments section.

Response in the comments section: President Obama released a statement following the earthquake…Effective immediately, the geological anomaly responsible for the quake will be known as…”Bush’s Fault”

And at

Over in the Twittersphere, earthquake-seasoned West Coasters were tweaking the East Coast with tweets like,“Text ‘Sorry you spilled your chai latte‘ to 90999 to donate $1 to the victims of the U.S. East Coast earthquake.” East coasters snapped back, “Hey, West Coasters mocking the East Coast Quake: We’ll remember this when an inch of snow paralyzes your city.”



 Civil War Era Humor

The following are supposedly true definitions, stories, and terms relating to the Civil War.

COFFIN was called a wooden overcoat.

GREY UNIFORM… After the war a former Confederate officer, who violated the city ordinance against wearing a grey uniform in public, was arrested and put in jail. He broke the law because he did not own another suit. A former Union Officer asked for and received permission from the sheriff to share the cell; remaining there until public opinion forced the one time Rebel’s release with repeal of the law.

FREE WHISKEY… A soldier, who was habitually drunk, publicly announced to all the men in his company and surrounding companies that he was swearing off drinking and that all the other soldiers should give up this foul habit also. The other soldiers would tease him to fall off the wagon by giving him whiskey and get him drunk. Every morning he would be back preaching about the sins of alcohol. One day his tent mate told him he ought to give up preaching about the evils of the jug as he always ends up drunk. With a twinkle in his blood shot eyes he said ” what, and give up all that free whiskey?”

COWARD… A Confederate expression used to express a coward, ” He developed a case of Yankee Chills.”

WAXED MUSTACHE… A soldier that had no respect for his commanding officer who wore a waxed mustache, would shout to him ” take those mice out of your mouth, I can see their tails hanging out.”


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