In this Shabbat’s weekly Torah portion Korach Numbers 16:1–18:32, incites a mutiny challenging Moses’ leadership and the granting of the kehunah (priesthood) to Aaron. He is accompanied by Moses’ inveterate foes, Dathan and Abiram. Joining them are 250 distinguished members of the community, who offer the sacrosanct ketoret (incense) to prove their worthiness for the priesthood. The earth opens up and swallows the mutineers, and a fire consumes the ketoret-offerers.
A subsequent plague is stopped by Aaron’s offering of ketoret. Aaron’s staff miraculously blossoms and brings forth almonds, to prove that his designation as high priest is divinely ordained.
In this week’s Haftara Prophets reading I Samuel 11:14 – 12:22, the prophet Samuel (a descendant of Korach, the protagonist of this week’s Torah portion) gathers the Jews to firmly install Saul as king of Israel. During the course of his address to the Jews he called out, “Here I am; bear witness against me before God and before His anointed; whose ox did I take, or whose ass did I take, or whom did I rob; or whom did I oppress, or from whose hand did I take a bribe…” This echoes Moses’ statement in this week’s Torah reading: “I have not taken a donkey from a single one of them, and I have not harmed a single one of them.”
The nation gathers at Gilgal for a second coronation of King Saul–the first one having lacked a convincing consensus. They offer sacrifices and rejoice together. The prophet Samuel then delivers a talk: he asks the people to testify that he never committed crimes against the people, and they confirm. He discusses how God saved and aided them every step of the way and chastises them for wanting a flesh and blood king. He assures them that God will be with them if they follow in His ways, and of the consequences they will face if they do not follow God’s word.