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Weekly D'rash Korach

Blurry Photo of Scattered Roses

In Jewish tradition, the combination of raisins and almonds symbolizes hope, prosperity, happiness, and fertility. The symbolism is portrayed in an old Yiddish lullaby called raisins and almonds (Rozhinges Mit Mandelin). In the song, "raisins and almonds" represent the hopes and dreams that a parent has for a newborn child. The origins have to do with the aspirations of a return to the Promised Land. Almond trees are native to the Mediterranean because of the very warm climate. In Genesis 43:11 almonds are described as one of the "best products of the land." The cups for the lampstand in the Tabernacle are shaped like almond blossoms. In Jer. 1:11 a budding almond branch is a representative symbol of the "watchfulness" of God in Jer. 1:12. The root of the word "almond" is the exact same root for an adjective meaning someone who wakes up early to watch over something.

Almonds are an important symbol in our Torah portion this week. A group of Levites headed by Korah rebelled against the leadership of Moses and Aaron. They are judged for this rebellion, and in a dramatic way the earth opens and 250 people are swallowed by it (Num. 16:31‒33). God instructs Moses and Aaron to take the bronze censors of the rebels and hammer them into plating for the bronze altar. You would think that this great judgment would have solved the problem of rebelling against the authority of Moses and Aaron! However, the result is that many others become angry over the death of these people and continue to question the leadership of God's chosen leaders.

Moses and Aaron intercede for the people so that they are not immediately judged and killed. What will make the heart of the people fear the Lord and yield to Moses and Aaron? The earth swallowing up Korah and others did not do it, nor did taking their censors and hammering them into the plating for the bronze altar. Numbers 17 gives us the answer. God instructs Moses to show them a miraculous sign that will cause the people to be humble and respect the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Moses asks the head of each tribe for an almond rod, and he writes the name of the head of the tribe on each rod. The sign will be that the chosen leader's almond rod will bear fruit overnight. Aaron's rod buds and mature almonds are on the branch. Amazingly, this miraculous sign terrifies the people and they then understand the power and sovereignty of God.

What is it about the rod that buds that convicts the heart of the people? Why did a branch bearing fruit miraculously cause the people to be convicted of their sin but not the deaths of Korah and 250 others? According to the text of the passage, the people blamed the deaths of Korah and others on Moses and Aaron, but the miracle of the almond rod they attributed to God. However, there is something else. The death of Korah and others was a judgment on their sin. The budding of Aaron's rod was a sign of life. It was a sign that Aaron's role of high priest was to save the people from death. The people then realized the horrible mistake they had made and were sure that they would then die. However, they would not die because Aaron had interceded for them, and, as we read in Numbers 18:1‒7, the Levitical priesthood bore the sins of the people. May I suggest that the sign of life caused the people to fear the Lord rather than the sign of death! Conviction comes when people see the life infusing work of God. Yes, they may be afraid when they see judgment, but conviction comes when people see the miracle of life!

The miracle of Aaron's rod that buds reminds us of the miracle of the resurrection of the Messiah. It was a miraculous moment that confirmed the reality of the atoning death of the Messiah and the new life that comes from him. In the early chapters of the book of Acts, Peter focuses on the resurrection of Yeshua as proof positive that he is the Messiah and that hope for deliverance is not lost. It was the miracles that drew the attention of people to Yeshua. Yeshua is the High Priest of a new order. He bears our sins permanently, places the Torah within us, and empowers us to live “the way of the Lord." Yeshua is both priest and king. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for "rod" can also be translated "scepter” as it is in Psalm 110:2 where it refers to the scepter of the Messiah! We read in John 14:6a that Yeshua said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life." Thus, he is the true almond rod that bears fruit! May we communicate that good news of life has come in Messiah Yeshua!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Howard

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