The opening words of this Torah portion remind me of the grammar joke I always loved: “This sentence no verb.” In the case of our reading, Parshat Korah, we find the following: “Vayikah Korah…vayakumu lifnei Moshe–Korah [and Datan and Aviram took…and they arose.” This sentence has a verb, but its first verb has no object. Korah took…what?
Traditional commentaries have tried to make sense of this grammatical anomaly, each struggling to add that which is clearly missing. The JPS translation attempts to solve the mystery of the missing object by translating that Korah “betook himself,” but in classic JPS style, its footnote says “meaning of Hebrew uncertain.”
On Shabbat morning, we’ll look at some of the classic commentaries on this phrase, and perhaps we’ll find that the Torah is actually telling us exactly what Korah took–that is to say, nothing!
I look forward to learning about this with you over Shabbat. Immediately after Shabbat ends, I will be off to Israel for two weeks, as I study at the Rabbinic Torah Seminar at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,