Korah: Aaron’s staff

Moses spoke to the Israelites; and all their leaders gave him staffs, one for each leader, according to their ancestral  houses, twelve staffs; and the staff of Aaron was among  theirs.  So Moses placed the staffs before the LORD in the tent of the covenant.  When Moses went into the tent of the covenant on the next  day, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted.  It put forth buds, produced blossoms, and bore ripe almonds.  (Numbers 17:21-23)

In this parsha, the question of Aaron’s leadership is settled when his staff* alone bursts into flower. This is not the first time that Aaron’s staff has been transformed.  Recall that in the Exodus story, in the court of Pharaoh, Aaron’s staff becomes a snake.

From staff to snake, from staff to flowering tree.   Two very different transformations.  Is it a magic staff?  No, it is simply Aaron’s staff, and the transformation shows us two aspects of one man, or two aspects of the leadership that his staff symbolizes.

Throughout human history, people have been wary of snakes, even when they have been blasé about much greater dangers.   There is something about a snake that communicates an instant danger signal.  In religion, when the snake is not an outright symbol of evil, it is a mysterious being intimately connected with the ground from which it emerges and returns, an enigmatic messenger from the lower depths.    The snake that has been Aaron’s staff devours the staff-snakes of the competing Egyptian magicians.  I see in the snake an aggressive aspect of power that relies on the threat of injury.

If we are naturally repelled by snakes, we are naturally attracted to flowers.  Is there a culture in the world that does not find them beautiful?    And Aaron’s rod not only blossoms, but produces almonds.   I see in the blossoming of Aaron’s rod a receptive aspect of power that makes its appeal through its beauty and the benefits it produces.

Will Soll

*the word for “staff” is mateh, which also means “tribe.”

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