Korach (Numbers 16:1 – 18:32)

When we last left the Israelites, they were still coming to grips with the prospect of spending the next 38+ years in the wilderness instead of the Promised Land.  Their response is not the usual whining but a series of out-and-out rebellion.  In one, Dathan and Abiram (and briefly On ben Pelet, whose wife – according to Midrash – told him not to be an idiot and kept him away) feel they deserve higher status as descendants of Jacob’s firstborn Reuben.  Their insolence toward Moses is breathtaking (calling Egypt a land of milk and honey?!).  They join with Korach, an ambitious Levite, and 250 other chieftains in questioning the authority of Moses and Aaron:  “You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and the Lord is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s congregation?”(16:3) 

Moses responds that they question not his authority, but the Lord’s. Further, for Korach et al., isn’t being a Levite special enough?  And he protests to the Lord that he has never personally profited from his position.  [That’s also how Samuel acts in the haftarah, I Samuel 11:14 – 12:22, telling the people what a fair judge he’s been and what ungrateful wretches they are to ask for a king.  This is as Saul is about to be crowned.] The next morning, he declares, the rebels are to bring their firepans for offering incense, which will show if they have the Lord’s favor.  Having apparently forgotten what happened to Nadav and Avihu (Lev. 10: 1-3), the 250 chieftains try to offer incense and are consumed by fire.  The earth splits open and swallows up Korach, Dathan, Abiram and their households, to the horror of the community.

Do the people settle down now?  Nope, they blame Moses and Aaron for what happened to the rebels.  A plague strikes (surprise).  Moses convinces the Lord not to destroy the people (again) and Aaron stops the plague by offering incense, so that “only” 14,700 die.  Aaron’s legitimacy is re-established when his staff, and only his, buds, blooms, and bears almonds.  The portion ends with a description of what the priests and Levites get from the Israelites’ offerings.

Korach can be difficult for us to get a fix on.  It seems reasonable for him to question the leadership of Moses and Aaron when faced with a total of 40 years in the wilderness.  However, it was the Israelites’ own behavior that doomed them.  Korach also seems to be promoting democracy, but, while apparently dictatorial, Moses and Aaron were given their authority by the Lord.  Korach is clearly an opportunist, but is he actually a demagogue?  In Demagogue: The Fight to Save Democracy from Its Worst Enemies (Macmillan. 2009. pp. 32–41.ISBN 0230606245), Michael Signer cites James Fenimore Cooper’s (yes, that James Fenimore Cooper) four rules followed by true demagogues (pp. 35-6): 

  1. They present themselves as being of the common people, not the elites.
  2. They depend on a powerful, visceral connection with the people, far beyond ordinary political popularity,
  3. They manipulate this connection for their own benefit and ambition.
  4. They threaten or even break established rules of conduct, institutions, even law. They do that either internally (threatening tyranny, subverting an inherently corrupt system of law) or externally by attacking other nations or groups.  In either case, they are intrinsically violent.

Signer describes the process.  “The cycle begins with a demagogue, ambition, and charisma.  …Soon enough, the people give him the government itself.  The democracy rapidly becomes a tyranny.”  In time, the tyrant is overthrown, eventually leading to a re-establishment of democracy, which lasts until the next demagogue emerges.  The Greek historian Polybius (2nd century BCE) described this as “a cycle of constitutional revolutions” in which the ashes of a destroyed democracy give rise to a despot because the people sacrifice freedom for order.

Back to Korach.  Korach exhibits the 4 demagogic behaviors listed to varying extents, but he doesn’t have enough time to develop into a full-blown demagogue capable of overthrowing the current system.  Of course, that would require besting the Lord, so Korach was doomed from the start.  Thank goodness.

Shabbat shalom,



Quotes about Demagoguery

“You [demagogues] are like the fishers for eels; in still waters they catch nothing, but if they thoroughly stir up the slime, their fishing is good; in the same way it’s only in troublous times that you line your pockets.” 
― AristophanesThe Knights

“It is one thing to rouse the passion of a people, and quite another to lead them.” 
― Ron SuskindConfidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President

“You perceive the force of a word. He who wants to persuade should put his trust not in the right argument, but in the right word. The power of sound has always been greater than the power of sense… Give me the right word and the right accent and I will move the world.” 
― Joseph Conrad

 “The best measure of a politician’s electoral success was becoming not how successfully he could broker people’s desires, but how well he could tap their fears.” 
― Rick PerlsteinBefore the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus



tph dilbert leader




Remember that luckily minor east coast earthquake in 2011?  Within a few weeks, Wilmington, DE experienced that earthquake, a possible tornado (don’t know if it touched down) and Hurricane Irene.

What did people in the East Coast do immediately after the earth quake today? Were they standing in door ways, rushing to their kids’ school to confirm that they were okay, or making a round of telephone calls to make sure everyone they know and love was a-okay? Nope. What did they do? They went to twitter.

You know your addicted to Twitter when you tweet “Earthquake OMG” instead of looking for the exit door. #USA

To all those in CA making fun of our reaction to the quake, let’s see you handle rationally 2 feet of snow, then we can talk. #earthquake

@ Katulis
Main impact of DC earthquake seems to be that the happy hour start time moved up about 4 hours for most people.

BREAKING: Philly cops respond to earthquake by shooting the ground!

UPDATE: Millions of Americans struggling to make earthquake about them.

Republicans and Democrats already blaming each other for the earthquake.

DARN IT!!!! I was this close to finishing my Etch-a-Sketch masterpiece. #earthquake

Earthquake survival tips. 1) update status 2) check in to unlock epic swarm badge 3) text friend and ask if they felt it too.

Federal officials report that in wake of earthquake all jokes have been exhausted. Joke backup systems dangerously stretched.



Why Dictators Don’t Like Jokes (excerpts)

Pro-democracy activists around the world are discovering that humor is one of the most powerful weapons in the fight against authoritarianism.

Fifteen (now 18) years ago, when Serbia’s non-violent pro-democracy movement, Otpor, was just a tiny group of 20 students with $50, we decided to play a prank.  We took an oil barrel, taped a picture of Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic to it, and set it up in the middle of Belgrade’s largest shopping district.  Next to it we placed a baseball bat.  Then we went for coffee, sat down, and watched the fun unfold.  Before long, dozens of shoppers lined the street, each waiting for a chance to take a swing at “Milosevic” — the man so many despised, but whom most were too afraid to criticize.  About 30 minutes in, the police arrived.  That’s when we held our breath, waiting for what would happen next.  What would the Milosevic’s police do? They couldn’t arrest shoppers — on what grounds?  And they couldn’t arrest the culprits — since we were nowhere to be seen.  So what did Milosevic’s police do?  The only thing they could:  They arrested the barrel.  The image of the two policemen dragging the barrel to their police car was the best photo shoot in Serbia for months.  Milosevic and his cronies became the laughing stock of the nation, and Otpor became a household name. 

But perhaps the best example comes from Putin’s Russia.  There, a Siberian anti-Putin toy protest featured teddy bears, Lego characters, and South Park figurines. It was toys only — no humans allowed.  So what happened?  Did Russian authorities find the culprits?  Did they arrest the toys?  You bet they did.  After confiscating the Lego figurines, Siberian authorities imposed an official ban on all future toy protests.  On what grounds?  That the toys were made in China.

In the months that followed, the antics of Siberia’s troubled officials went viral.  In the process, they’ve reminded dictators the world over that once the spirit of laughter and people power comes out of the bottle, there’s no stopping it.



Sent out in 2007

How To Survive a Robot Uprising: Tips on Defending Yourself Against the Coming Rebellion (Paperback)   by Daniel H. Wilson (Author)

From Publishers Weekly

In this uncomfortably humorous survival guide, Wilson, a Ph.D. candidate at the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University, reminds readers that “any machine could rebel, from a toaster to a Terminator,” and though the forms our future robot enemies may take are manifold, they each have exploitable weaknesses that, fortuitously, match our natural human strengths. So, if a two-legged android gives chase, seek out a body of water, as “most robots will sink in water or mud and fall through ice.” It also may be a good idea to carry around a pair of welder’s goggles, as lasers will likely be robot attackers’ weapons of choice, and even a weak laser can cause blindness. Options for fighting back are plentiful, though not everyone will be relieved to learn the standard kitchen microwave can be retrofitted into a radiation gun that can destroy electronics and “cook human flesh.” (Instructions for such a project are not included.) Humorous and informative-Wilson drops robotics history trivia nuggets and includes brief descriptions of current robot research-this nifty little guide to surviving the inevitable robot apocalypse may have you reconsidering purchasing that “smart” (read: insidious) refrigerator.

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

[That reminds me of a Twilight Zone episode about a rebellion of household appliances. They won. IGP]


This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s