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Korah's rebellion took place during Israel's sojourn in Kadesh-Barnea, whence, a short time before, the spies had been sent out. They remained in this place during nineteen years, and then for as long a time wandered ceaselessly from place to place through the desert. [601] When at last the time decreed by God for their stay in the wilderness was over, and the generation that God had said must die in the desert had paid its penalty for its sin, they returned again to Kadesh-Barnea. They took delight in this place endeared to them by long years of habitation, and settled down in the expectation of a cheerful and agreeable time. But the prophetess Miriam now dies, and the loss of the woman, who occupied a place as high as that of her brothers, Moses and Aaron, at once became evident in a way that was perceived by the pious as well as by the godless. She was the only woman who died during the march through the desert, and this occurred for the following reasons. She was a leader of the people together with her brothers, and as these two were not permitted to lead the people into the promised land, she had to share their fate. The well, furthermore, that had provided Israel with water during the march through the desert, had been a gift of God to the people as a reward for the good deeds of this prophetess, and as this gift had been limited to the time of the march through the desert, she had to die shortly before the entrance into the promised land.

Hardly had Miriam died, when the well also disappeared and a dearth of water set in, that all Israel might know that only owing to the merits of the pious prophetess had they been spared a lack of water during the forty years of the march. [602] While Moses and Aaron were now plunged in deep grief for their sister's death, a mob of the people collected to wrangle with them on account of the dearth of water. Moses, seeing the multitudes of people approaching from the distance, said to his brother Aaron: "What may all these multitudes desire?" The other replied: "Are not the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob kind-hearted people and the descendants of kind-hearted people? They come to express their sympathy." Moses, however, said: "Thou are not able to distinguish between a well-ordered procession and this motley multitude; were these people assembled in an orderly procession, they would move under the leadership of the rules of thousands and the rulers of hundreds, but behold, they move in disorderly troops. How then can their intentions be to console with us!" [603]

The two brothers were not long to remain in doubt concerning the purpose of the multitude, for they stepped up to them and began to pick a quarrel with Moses, saying: "It was a heavy blow for us when fourteen thousand and seven hundred of our men died of the plague; harder still to bear was the death of those who were swallowed up by the earth, and lost their lives in an unnatural way; the heaviest blow of all, however, was the death of those who were consumed at the offering of incense, whose terrible end is constantly recalled to us by the covering of the altar, fashioned out of the brasen plates that came of the censers used by those unfortunate ones. But we bore all these blows, and even wish we had all perished simultaneously with them instead of becoming victims to the tortures of death by thirst." [604]

At first they directed their reproaches against Moses alone, since Aaron, on account of his extraordinary love of peace and his kind-heartedness, was the favorite of the people, but once carried away by suffering and rage, they started to hurl their accusations against both of the brothers, saying: "Formerly your answer to us had always been that sorrows came upon us and that God did not stand by us because there were sinful and godless men among us. Now that we are 'a congregation of the Lord,' why have ye nevertheless led us to this poor place where there is not water, without which neither man nor beast can live? Why do not ye exhort God to have pity upon us since the well of Miriam had vanished with her death?" [605]

"A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast," and the fact that these people, so near to death, still considered the sufferings of their beasts shows that they were, notwithstanding their attitude toward Moses and Aaron, really pious men. And, in truth, God did not take amiss their words against Moses and Aaron, "for God holds no man accountable for that which he utters in distress." For the same reason neither Moses nor Aaron made reply to the accusations hurled against them, but hastened to the sanctuary to implore God's mercy for His people. They also considered that the holy place would shelter them in case the people meant to lay hands upon them. God actually did appear at once, and said to them: "Hasten from this place; My children die of thirst, and ye have nothing better to do than to mourn the death of an old woman!" [606] He then bade Moses "to speak unto the rock that it may give forth water," but impressed upon them the command to bring forth neither honey nor oil out of the rock, but water only. This was to prove God's power, who can pour out of the rock not only such liquids as are contained in it, but water too, that never otherwise issues from a rock. He also ordered Moses to speak to the rock, but not to smite it with his rod. "For," said God, "the merits of them that sleep in the Cave of Machpelah suffice to cause their children to receive water out of the rock." [607]

Moses then fetched out of the Tabernacle the holy rod on which was the Ineffable Name of God, and, accompanied by Aaron, betook himself to the rock to bring water out of it. [608] On the way to the rock all Israel followed him, halting at any rock by the way, fancying that they might fetch water out of it. The grumblers now went about inciting the people against Moses, saying: "Don't you know that the son of Amram had once been Jethro's shepherd, and all shepherds have knowledge of the places in the wilderness that are rich in water? Moses will now try to lead us to such a place where there is water, and then he will cheat us and declare he had causes the water to flow out of a rock. If he actually is able to bring forth water out of rocks, then let him fetch it out of any one of the rocks upon which we fix." Moses could easily have done this, for God said to him: "Let them see the water flow out of the rock they have chosen," but when, on the way to the rock, he turned around and perceived that instead of following him they stood about in groups around different rocks, each group around some rock favored by it, he commanded them to follow him to the rock upon which he had fixed. They, however, said: "We demand that thou bring us water out of the rock we have chosen, and if thou wilt not, we do not care to fetch water out of another rock." [609]

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