Yet, what strikes me, beyond the reverberating frustrations of Moshe, Aharon, and G-d, are the literary devices which are employed to further the story. The Torah proves again that its use of text can be a potent tool in its desire to get the point across. Buried in the greater story are three symbols which the Torah uses. Here’s one you’ve never heard before. Put on your ruby slippers and say it with me: “Fire-pans and almonds and salt (Oh my)!”
Remember Nadav and Avihu, the two sons of Aharon who were Divinely combusted for burning unauthorized offerings from their machtot, fire-pans? Korach, doubtless, did too. Yet when Moshe repeatedly offers 250 rebels the opportunity to recreate the same infraction, knowing that this was to be a test of G-d’s acceptance, they did so, anyway. Surprise, surprise, they suffered the same fate.
They didn’t pay attention to their past. Oh, my!
In the aftermath of the disquiet which followed the Korach incident, when the nation’s lack of faith was addressed by a plague which, after it killed 14,700 people (before it was averted, ironically, by Aaron and a fire-pan with incense), G-d devises a new test to determine the veracity of Aharon’s authority. Aharon and each tribal leader inscribed their names on a staff. As predicted, Aharon’s staff sprouted blossoms and grew almonds overnight. Chazal, our sages, teach us that almonds are known for blooming and bearing fruit quickly; showing that Hashem’s response to our actions will be rapid and dramatic.
Israel learned something important about their present. Oh, my!
Then, at the end of the parsha, a unique phrase occurs in an unexpected context. In reaffirming the permanence of the dedication or redemption of firstborn sons or certain animals to the Kohanim, the Torah refers to this as a “brit melach,” a “salt-covenant.” This phrase, which occurs a grand total of two times in the entire Bible, has a particular significance. Salt is a substance which will never go bad. It is timeless. The odd metaphor is used to show that the unique relationship between G-d and those who He appointed to serve Him is to be lasting and infinite. Those who challenged that authority at the beginning of the parsha should now get the salty message. Regardless of how we may have evolved over time, our relationship with Hashem will last for all time.
We’ve all learned something about our future. Oh, my!
It doesn’t take much Wizardry to figure out that the Torah talks to us on multiple levels at once. We have the benefit of being able to read and re-read the story to glean what we can, new and different, each time. The real challenge, with the Torah as with life, is to try to learn what our experiences past, present, and future have to teach us…the first time. Korach and all those who suffered the fates they did due to spontaneous burial, immolation, or plague missed the signs at the outset, and now exist only as biblical exemplars of what we should avoid.
Let’s face it, the Torah is our life and the length of our days, and there’s no place like Home.
Rabbi/Hazzan David B. Sislen