As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, and all those associated with Korah, together with their possessions. — Numbers 16:31–32
The Torah portion for this week is Korach, which means “Korah,” from Numbers 16:1–18:32, and the Haftorah is from 1 Samuel 11:14–12:22.
Korah was an extremely wealthy man. Even today, the expression used in Hebrew to describe an affluent person is “as rich as Korah.” The Talmud says that hundreds of mules were needed just to carry the keys to Korah’s treasure houses. Legend has it that Korah was one of the wealthiest people to ever live.
In the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon writes, “I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owners” (Ecclesiastes 5:13). The Jewish sages explain that the wealth in this verse – the kind that hurts its owners – is a reference to the wealth of Korah. Korah’s wealth gave him a false sense of security and caused him to think that he was greater than he really was. But Korah’s wealth ended up his greatest enemy. It led to his rebellion and his downfall.
The sages teach that Korah’s sons stood by his side in his rebellion. When the ground opened up, it swallowed Korah, his sons, and all their possessions. However, the sages teach that the sons of Korah repented while they were underground, and then, they were miraculously led out of it. While they were underground they composed a powerful psalm about wealth that we still read today.
In Psalm 49, Korah’s sons write, “Do not be overawed when others grow rich . . . for they will take nothing with them when they die, their splendor will not descend with them” (Psalm 49:16–17).
Imagine this profound moment of clarity as Korah’s sons stood in-between worlds, watching their wealthy father and his prominent supporters perish in an instant. Where was their money now? All the money in the world could not buy back even a moment of life! Their money was now worthless!
There is a powerful story told about a member of the famous wealthy Rothschild family. Someone asked him, “Exactly how much wealth do you have?” In response, Lord Rothschild answered, “Let me show you.” He led the man to a room and showed him many documents. They were receipts from charities that he had supported. “These,” said Lord Rothschild, “are my only true possessions. Only the money that I have given away will accompany me to the grave.”
In the end, all possessions are meaningless; only our good deeds will be with us forever. So let us convert our wealth into charity and use our possessions to do kindness. Then we will have something of true value that will be with us forever.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President