The Family feud……the magic staff and more….
Two women play a prominent role in this week’s parsha of Koirach as you will hear this coming shabbis, if you make it to shul. Or will you? Though the heylige toirah doesn’t mention the women by name, nor their roles, the medrish and the gemorah are replete with stories and if you have to deliver a sheva brochois speech this week, the story of Mrs. Oin ben Peles (one of Koirach’s original co-conspirators), is mamish gevaldig. So too is the story of Mrs. Koirach if you happen to be speaking at your friends divorce party. But before we look under the hood to see what’s taka going on, here’s a brief overview of the gantza parsha. Why the summary first you ask? Because loi olaynu and nebech, a good number of you have advised that you sadly cannot make it through the toirah weekly, its exceptional content and writing style notwithstanding. Nu, what should I do; once an oisvorf, always an oisvorf.
As I told you just last week, the Yiddin seem epes not ready for prime time: they (some) are still causing all sorts of mischief and testing the RBSO who is in no mood for narishkeyt (silliness). It’s one shabbis later, and by the time you finish reading this 95 possuk parsha, the RBSO will have flexed His muscles and wiped out kimat (nearly) another 15,000 yiddin. So what happened that was so giferlich that the RBSO killed an initial 250 followed by another 14,700?
Our parsha describes yet another dark episode in the Midbar (wilderness) experience, one of several. This time, we have a new type of rebellion on our hands. Unlike the Miraglim (spies) who were attracted to the super-sized fruit of the land, the Eygel, or even the story of how the BNY lusted for a good piece of meat and who doesn’t, this rebellion targets Moishe and Aharoin directly. Seemingly, this time the yiddin aren’t even upset with the RBSO. There’s no rejection of the desert conditions or wishing for a return to slavery in Mitzrayim (Egypt); this one’s a mutiny.
The leader is Koirach, Moishe’s very wealthy first cousin and who else but mishpocho (family) to stir the pot and lead a revolt. How was it that he became wealthy? Was he day trading in the midbar? Efhser trading in sheep and other commodities or efsher he had the Tzitzis master franchise, the industry born in last week’s parsha; ver veyst? In any event, the heylige gemorah suggests that he was not just rich, but mamish a millionaire. Taka how? Seemingly he found some of the wealth and riches that Yoisef collected in Mitzrayim (during the hunger while he gouged the mitzrim, those dirty bastards, out of their money in exchange for food) while viceroy and which he had later hidden. Avada with money, especially in the Midbar where there wasn’t much to buy, he became a respected individual in his own eyes and in the eyes of others, as is often the case with wealthy people.
His wife, we are taught is the one that eggs him on. Koirach is somewhat charismatic, has money and before long, he has amassed a shtikel following. Nu, money zicher helps when campaigning for a leadership position. Mistama you never heard the expression ‘rach vi koirach” (rich like Koirach) but that’s how European parents described wealthy people. In fact, when I was but a little boy, Koirach was my hero: is it a wonder I became the Oirvorfer? I thought Koirach was this great fellow in Jewish history. Avada it was easy to get 250 followers when a person has wealth to spread and the heylige gemoro tells us that Koirach did just that. He bribed his followers with food and wine; hec, these two items even get people to shul on shabbis. Though they were taka leaders and good people, when it comes to food, money and spirits, even the good guys succumb quickly, nebech. Where he got food in the midbar when all they ate was Mun for 40 years, well, this is not exactly addressed but mistama it’s a picture they want to paint.
In fact, The Medrish Tanchuma tells us that two exceptionally wealthy individuals came to this world — one from Israel and one from the Goyim: Koirach from the yiddin and Homon, the minuvil, from the goyim. Both of them met a terrible end. Nu, money isn’t everthing though some say- it’s the only thing.
Bikitzur (in short), Koirach the imfaginner (insanely jealous person) vilde chaya that he was, incited a mutiny challenging Moishe’s leadership and he wasn’t at all too pleased with the fact that Aharoin (Moishe’s brother) was granted the role of being the big Kehuna; epes he smelled a shtikel nepotism. Next: He enlisted another two protagonists, Moishe’s inveterate foes from way back (parshas Shemois) by the names of Dosson and Avirom (Dathan and Aviram if you watched the movie Exodus) and together they are joined by another 250 yiddin. Forgot them? They are the two fellows who earlier in Moishe’s career, after having slain the Egyptian taskmaster, confronted Moishe with the words, “who made you an important personage to be a minister and judge over us.” (Shemois 2:14, Rashi). To no one’s surprise, all 250 were avada distinguished members of the community, who else gets into trouble but people with power? You can smell the trouble brewing; in fact it really smelled because Moishe tells all 250 to offer the sacrosanct ketoires (incense) as a test of their worthiness for the priesthood. A few pisukim later, the earth opens up its mouth, swallows the mutineers, and a fire consumes the ketoires-offerers. Revolt over- they lose! As an aside, not just were they and their families swallowed, their possessions went with them: no booty to split.
Mistama (likely) you won’t be shocked to hear that it’s a machloikes (disagreement) as to the identity of these 250 individuals, but at least a number of Medroshim maintain that they included the leaders of each of the tribes. Oy vey! How is it possible that such righteous leaders stumbled and fell so far as to take part in Koirach’s rebellion against Moishe and Aharoin? Taka an excellent kasha, especially so, after they witnessed what happened to the Miraglim last week, also avada leaders of their tribes. Seemingly, the leadership wasn’t up to the job, a syndrome we find nebech at times in our own communities, if you chap.
Of course, it’s also a machloikes (argument) as to whether they were consumed by fire and then swallowed or just swallowed and also if Koirach and his family got one form of punishment, the other or both. Whatever the case, a good day they didn’t have. In this case, being swallowed was taka not such a good thing, if you chap. Also as an aside: somewhere in this story Koirach’s children switch sides, do tshuva and are spared as we will later learn.
And just when you thought the yiddin would come to their senses and realize that only the RBSO is in charge, nu, a nechtiger tug (fugettttabout it)- a few pisukiim later, they’re in trouble again. Another group starts complaining against Moishe and Aharoin the Koihen Godol and again the RBSO metes out swift punishment. No leprosy, no warnings, no being saved by Moishe’s davening on their behalf, but sudden death through a plague. To stop the plague, Moishe tells Aharoin to hurry and offer more ketories to appease the RBSO. Seemingly the RBSO likes incense but gets incensed with incest. Aharoin avada does just what Moishe says and the plague is stopped but not before it wipes out another 14,700 yiddin.
Following this story, we read about Aharoin’s shteken (stick/staff) which is placed in the Oihel (tent) along with other sticks and miraculously only his blossoms and brings forth almonds to prove that his designation as the koihen godol (big kehuna) is mamish divinely ordained. Sounds nuts!
Those suffering from severe ADD may tune out now as we covered the main story line but if you want to chap pshat and also be a shtikel entertained, let’s go veyter and try to understand this entire shteken blossoming incident and if we still have time and space, also about the women that played a key role in this week’s parsha.
You’ve never seen a stick blossom? What about a stick with nuts? Or a flowering nut producing stick? Neither I but zicher you saw a deflowering stick, if you chap. Nu, I see you haven’t left yet so let’s together try to make sense of this amazing story, one that gets a lot of play from the medrish and from speakers each year during this time. What’s pshat with a flowering stick and what’s it doing here in the parsha immediately following the rebellion?
So here we are. Koirach, his wife and some of his mishpocho and his rabble rousers are gone but the Yiddin are still restless, still in the mood to test the RBSO. They’ve just witnessed a miracle: the earth opened its mouth so wide (Lewinsky style) that it swallowed 250 people at one time. You would think that the BNY would be so amazed that they’d all run to shul, daven quietly, stop speaking loshoin horo and stop testing the RBSO. Wouldn’t you? But you’d be thinking wrong! Instead … as the possik says: “The next day, the community of the children of Israel protested against Moishe and Aharoin: You have killed the people of God!” – and mamish blamed Moishe for killing the 250 people.
Nu what to do? So the RBSO came up with some more magic. As the possik states: “God spoke to Moishe: Speak to the Israelite people and take from them – from the Chieftain of each of their ancestral houses – one staff for each Chieftain … The staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout, and I will rid Myself of their incessant mutterings of the Israelites against you…The staff of Aharoin of the house of Levi sprouted, it had brought forth sprouts, produced blossoms, and borne almonds.”
Believe it or not, even this miracle was followed by further criticism and cynicism; however, this act essentially brought an end to the revolution, with its enormous death toll, and with this act, the camp apparently returned to a state of normality. How are we to understand this magical, flowering and nut producing staff? Whose was it, where did it come from and why is the stick so important? Says the Midrash Rabba: here are three choices; pick the one you like best.
Some say that this staff was originally in the hands of Yehuda, remember him from Sefer Bereishis? If you remember the story of Yehuda and Tamar and of course you do because you’re a chazir who only remembers stories that involve illicit relations, Yehuda while traveling, stopped roadside for a little R&R with the local zoina (whore) or so he thought. Following the mayseh (act), she insisted that he leave her with his “seal, his cord and the staff that he carries”. Thinking she was just the local prostitute, he does just that. Now she had both of his sticks.
A few pisukim later, this staff is one of the items that save her life as we learn that the woman is in fact, Tamar, his own daughter-in-law, who presents these symbols to him, thereby proving that he is the father of her child. Seemingly, Yehudah did some fine stick-work. In this story, the staff functions as a sign of identification. Seemingly, both of Yehuda’s sticks got him into some trouble, oy vey!!
How did Yehuda’s stick make it over to the Midbar? When the Midrash suggests that Aharoin’s staff has its origins with Yehuda, maybe we are saying that this staff was designed as a method of personal identity, like bringing up their Social Security number- the shteken is a precise mode of identification – like an ID card. Sounds plausible but let’s try another approach.
Some say that it’s the shteken that Charlton Heston….err I mean Moishe held and used as the instrument when he performed miracles for the Yiddin as we all remember from the movie. Moishe taka held the stick when he performed miracles, including incidents during negotiations with Paroy the minuvil, during the Makois, splitting of the Red Sea, the war on Amolake and nebech when he hit the rock. I guess he used it one too many times. We should all taka learn a lesson here.
Anyway, this magic staff flowered on its own, grew nuts as it says “And behold Aharoin’s staff flowered.” (Bamidbar 17:23). How could it be Aharoin’s stick when it was Moishe’s stick? Says the medrish that this is not really a question because they shared the stick (as do many). Here it’s called Aharoin’s staff (not Moishe’s), but this is probably a result of its association with Aharoin in this chapter. Says the Medrash: When Aharoin performed miracles, it was called by his name and when Moishe performed miracles, it was called Moishe’s stick and in the future when the RBSO will use it to perform miracles, it will be called His stick. Gevaldig!
Some take issue with this pshat because it would appear that Aharoin’s stick would then have come into the contest with magical powers and an unfair advantage giving the Yiddin something else to complain about.
And others say: Moishe took a single piece of wood and cut it into twelve planks. He said to them: You are all from a single beam of wood, take your sticks. Why did he act in this manner? …so that they not say: His (Aharoin’s) stick was moist, and hence it flowered. No further illumination needed. According to this pshat, the contest was fair and balanced. All the staffs were extracted from a single tree trunk and now, during the staff meet, each tribe had an equal level chance. This is an objective test method and when he won, Aharoin did so objectively. Nobody can dispute this contest. This sounds good to me too.
Whose stick it was originally, we avada don’t know but the toirah tells us that after the BNY saw an ordinary stick bud, flower, and grow nuts, all were quiet.
Back to Koirach, and his eishes chayil. The heylige gemorah questions what caused Koirach to become so insanely jealous of Moishe that he would initiate an insurrection? Says the heylige gemorah (Sanhedrin 109b) that it was all his wife’s fault, isn’t everything in life? Said she: “See what Moishe has done. He himself has become king; his brother he appointed High Priest; his brother’s sons he has made the vice High Priests. If terumah is brought, he decrees: Let it be for the priest. If the tithe is brought, which belongs to you [since you are a Levie], he orders: Give a tenth part thereof to the Koihen.
Moreover, he has had your hair cut off and makes sport of you as though you were dirt… for he was jealous of your hair.” Nu, this part many men can zicher understand. Going back to parshas Behaloischo, the RBSO commanded the Leviyim to purify themselves by shaving their complete body. When Koirach returned to his tent, his wife saw him shaven and taunted him saying that Moishe hated him and imposed the law about shaving just to disgrace him. Koirach tried to placate her by pointing out that Moishe shaved his own children. Said he to her, “But he has done likewise!” She wouldn’t relent, nu- you know how obstinate women can be and replied that Moishe only shaved his own children so he could embarrass Koirach. Thus it is written, “A wise woman builds her house” (Proverbs, 14:1) — this refers to the wife of Oin the son of Peles; “but the foolish woman destroys it with her hands” (ibid.) — this refers to Koirach’s wife. Who are Oin and Mrs. Oin? Vart tzi a minute (wait a minute), we’ll get to them.
Says the medrish, that Koirach to his detriment took his wife’s advice- always a dangerous thing to do- and proves this from the first words of the parsha. “V’Yikach Koirach”. What did Koirach take? The Medrash tells us that Koirach took “eytzas eishto,” the suggestions of his wife, idiot that he was! And the machloikes was all her idea. She told him that Moishe is taking everything for himself and his family and leaving nothing over for the rest of the Sheyvet. Women!!
Back to the Peles family. One of the great mysteries of the world is what ever happened to Oin Ben Peles. The first possik states: “Vayikach Koirach ben Yitzhar…ve-dason veaviram, ve-oin ben peles benei reuven, and Koirach the son of Yitzhar took Dason ve-Aviram and Oin ben Peles.” Oin is right there front and center as a co-leader. We know what happened to the others, what about Oin? How did he escape the big swallow? He’s gone without a trace, never again mentioned in the heylige toirah; where did he go?
Comes the heylige gemorah to the rescue as it always does with this amazing story. Don’t know if it’s emes but still amazing. Says the germorah that Oin (Sanhedrin 109b) was saved by his wife, even though there is no mention of her at all in the text. In other words: this is what they think happened or imagine that it did.
Oin came home and told his wife that he was joining Koirach in the rebellion. Said she: “Mai nafkah lach minei, what are you going to get out of this?” Either way, you’re a loser and a peon. If Koirach wins, you’re a peon and if Moishe wins the leadership battle, you’re also a loser. Said he: “What can I do, as I have already sworn allegiance to Koirach?” Said she: “Leave it to me.”
Sly fox that she was, she hatched a plan. That night she fed him wine and got him drunk, oldest trick in the book. Early in the morning, she sat at the tent’s opening, and let her hair down. What this means I never knew; seemingly it did the trick. When Koirach and his followers came to collect Oin for the morning showdown with Moishe, they were embarrassed to walk into the tent as she was grooming herself. Tzadikkim that they avada were, seeing a woman in that state could arouse the Yetzer Hora and the staff, if you chap. In the meantime, Oin still in a drunken stupor overslept and missed the gantza revolution. His life saved by the esihes chayil and some good booze. Mamish a fantastic lesson for our teens!?.
Nu the heylige gemorah codifiers who avada had a love hate relationship with women, contrasts Mrs. Oin with Mrs. Korach blaming the latter for baiting Koirach, ultimately causing his demise (along with all his money) to Mrs. Oin who used her head and body, also a fine bottle, to outwit the protestors. And what do these two wives have in common? They both told their husbands that they are good for nothing idiots, something women all over the world tell their girlfriends ad hayoim hazeh (till today). And for good measure, some cut out the middle person and tell their husbands directly.
A gitten shabbis-