Parshas Korach contains the story of how the leadership of Moshe and Aharon was challenged by Korach, and his group of 250 men. However, they were misguided, and their lack of emunah cost them and many others their lives. Korach was famously swallowed up by a hole in the ground, his 250 followers were killed in a different manner.
In order to show that Aharon was the true Kohen Gadol, each man offered a portion of ketores, usually only offered by the Kohen. Whichever offering was accepted would show whom Hashem had chosen to be the true Kohen. At the same time Korach was swallowed by the ground, a fire came out from heaven and consumed all 250 men, since only the real Kohen could bring a ketores and survive.
The nation could not accept that Hashem had killed 250 men for this reason, and immediately confronted Moshe and Aharon, claiming they had caused the deaths of these men. In defense of Moshe and Aharon, and in response to the Bnei Yisrael’s lack of belief, Hashem immediately brought a plague upon them. Moshe knew from his time on Har Sinai that bringing a ketores offering would stop a plague. He hurried Aharon to bring one and the plague stopped immediately. The language by the cessation of the plague requires some examination.
When Aharon first brings the ketores, the pasuk says, “וַיַּֽעֲמֹ֥ד בֵּֽין־הַמֵּתִ֖ים וּבֵ֣ין הַֽחַיִּ֑ים וַתֵּֽעָצַ֖ר הַמַּגֵּפָֽה” “He (Aharon) stood between the dead and the living, and the plague ceased.” (Bamidbar 17:13). Then, two pesukim later, “וַיָּ֤שָׁב אַֽהֲרֹן֙ אֶל־משֶׁ֔ה אֶל־פֶּ֖תַח אֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֑ד וְהַמַּגֵּפָ֖ה נֶֽעֱצָֽרָה” “Aharon returned to Moshe at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and the plague ceased.” (Ibid 15). Why does the Torah tell me twice that the plague stopped? The Seforno explains that the first time is to tell me that the plague stopped spreading among the people and the second time is to tell me that anyone who was infected was cured.
The Ohr HaChaim answers using a famous medrash, which explains that Aharon grabbed the angel in command of the plague, and did not let him to continue infecting the nation. The malach demanded he be released so he could continue his mission from Hashem. Aharon refused, saying that Moshe had commanded him to stop the plague. The malach asked Aharon how he could compare a mission from a human being to one from Hashem! Aharon was unruffled, saying that anything Moshe said must be straight from the mouth of Hashem. They then approached the Mishkan, where Moshe was standing and where Hashem’s presence rested, to settle their argument. Upon confirming that Aharon was correct, the malach stopped his mission and left Bnei Yisrael alone.
While some midrashim are not easily proven, this one appears clear from the pesukim. In pasuk 13, it reads, “וַתֵּֽעָצַ֖ר הַמַּגֵּפָֽה”, which translates literally to “and the plague was made to stop”. While in pasuk 15, it says, “וְהַמַּגֵּפָ֖ה נֶֽעֱצָֽרָה”, literally translated as, “and the plague stopped”. The first time refers to when Aharon forcibly stopped the plague against its will. The second pasuk first says that he returned to Mishkan by Moshe, and then that the plague stopped of its own accord, having received confirmation that Moshe’s word was indeed the word of God.
From the moment he is introduced and throughout the Torah, we see amazing stories of Moshe Rabbeinu’s greatness. Here is just another example; Aharon was so confident in the word of Moshe that he was willing to take on an angel of Hashem with the confidence that he was right. This is the man Korach challenged, and this is the man Bnei Yisrael were fortunate enough to have lead them through the desert.
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