Kosher Queers

36 — Korach: Sacred Anarchy

June 25, 2020 Xava De Cordova
Kosher Queers
36 — Korach: Sacred Anarchy
Kosher Queers
36 — Korach: Sacred Anarchy
Jun 25, 2020
Xava De Cordova

This week, Jaz and Lulav are joined by Xava De Cordova, host of the queer Talmud podcast Xai, how are you? We talk about why a staff helps bring religious traditions together, how cool it is to have 250 union organizers as biblical characters, and the beauty of a time-travelling anarchist visionary. Xava also reveals her secret title as head of the Anti-Moses Sentiment Committee. (Lulav says she's not a member of that particular committee, and instead belongs to the rival Moshe-was-Progressive-to-Some-Extent-But-as-Soon-as-He-Got-a-Taste-of-Power-Became-a-Bootlicking-Liberal Brigade.)

Full transcript here.

You can support Xava on Patreon, follow her on Twitter at @xaihowareyou, and listen to her podcast in a variety of places, including on Soundcloud.

All of us reference sci-fi books this episode! Jaz references the book The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau, and Xava speaks to the novel The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, and Lulav references Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. Also, Xava and Lulav discuss Anathem by Neal Stephenson. Of the four of those, I think we can most wholeheartedly recommend The Dispossessed.

Content note: this episode includes non-graphic discussion of death.

Support us on Patreon! Send us questions or comments at, follow us on Twitter @kosherqueers, and like us on Facebook at Kosher Queers. Our music is by the band Brivele. This week, our audio was edited by Ezra Faust, and our transcript was written by Reuben Shachar Rose and Jaz Twersky. Our logo is by Lior Gross, and we are not endorsed by or affiliated with the Orthodox Union.

Support the show (

Show Notes Transcript

This week, Jaz and Lulav are joined by Xava De Cordova, host of the queer Talmud podcast Xai, how are you? We talk about why a staff helps bring religious traditions together, how cool it is to have 250 union organizers as biblical characters, and the beauty of a time-travelling anarchist visionary. Xava also reveals her secret title as head of the Anti-Moses Sentiment Committee. (Lulav says she's not a member of that particular committee, and instead belongs to the rival Moshe-was-Progressive-to-Some-Extent-But-as-Soon-as-He-Got-a-Taste-of-Power-Became-a-Bootlicking-Liberal Brigade.)

Full transcript here.

You can support Xava on Patreon, follow her on Twitter at @xaihowareyou, and listen to her podcast in a variety of places, including on Soundcloud.

All of us reference sci-fi books this episode! Jaz references the book The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau, and Xava speaks to the novel The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, and Lulav references Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. Also, Xava and Lulav discuss Anathem by Neal Stephenson. Of the four of those, I think we can most wholeheartedly recommend The Dispossessed.

Content note: this episode includes non-graphic discussion of death.

Support us on Patreon! Send us questions or comments at, follow us on Twitter @kosherqueers, and like us on Facebook at Kosher Queers. Our music is by the band Brivele. This week, our audio was edited by Ezra Faust, and our transcript was written by Reuben Shachar Rose and Jaz Twersky. Our logo is by Lior Gross, and we are not endorsed by or affiliated with the Orthodox Union.

Support the show (

[Brivele intro music]

Lulav: Welcome to Kosher Queers, a podcast with at least two Jews and generally more than three opinions. Each week we bring you queer takes on Torah. They’re Jaz —

Jaz: And she’s Lulav —

Lulav: — and she's Xava! And we're here to joke about Judaism and talk Tanakh together! Today, our chevruta is learning Korach. 

Jaz: And, were joined by a guest today! Xava De Cordova is a Jewish educator, Talmudic scholar, future rabbi, neo-xasidic Svaranik, and writer living in Providence, Rhode Island. She cut her teeth as a teacher founding Beit Midrash Behind Bars, an organization that created Jewish study opportunities for incarcerated people inside Washington State prisons. She helps facilitate Shalem, an egalitarian xavurah in Providence. She also hosts the queer Talmud podcast Xai, how are you? and co-founded a queer all-online yeshiva called Shel Maala.

Xava: Thank you, it's lovely to be on the show. Long time fan, first time caller. (Jaz laughs). 

Lulav: And, I know that you already have the originator on this on the other side of the mic, but, (does a tired sounding voice) xai Xava. (everyone laughs)

Xava: Xai, xai how are you? For listeners that don't know that was a reference to the co-host of my podcast, Michael, who has a very famous way of talking on the podcast (Jaz and Lulav laugh). 

Lulav: Hi Michael. Yeah. So it's a delight to have y’all here today. 

Xava: And a pleasure to be here. 

Jaz: Xava, when we invited you on, you said specifically that you were really interested in talking about Korach. Can you share with us why this parsha in particular is your favourite one?

Xava: Yeah, for sure. I'll say first a measure of how interested I am in parsha Korax is that, when people ask me for my prayer name, like my full Hebrew name for if they wanna say a refuah shlema or something like that for me, I tell them that it's Xava Bat Korax so —

Lulav: Okay! 

Jaz: Whoa. 

Xava: —that's just like, a symbol of how committed I am to the Korax lifestyle. I really like this parsha because it feels like a really foundational Jewish anarchist text to me. (Lulav laughs) We're going to get into that I'm sure as we go through the parsha but to me it just absolutely speaks to the essence of Judaism which I believe is synonymous with sacred anarchy. (Lulav giggles)

Jaz: Wonderful. 

Lulav: Okay. (Xava giggles)

Jaz: I’m so excited.

Lulav: Jaz, I'm going to do a short summary. Can you give me 50 seconds?

Jaz: Yeah. One moment… okay, ready? Set, go. 

Lulav: A couple of people, including the Levite laymen and two Reuvenites get uppity and think they're entitled to the same communion with the Divine that the priests were given! Moshe gets dewy-eyed about the affront to his brother and challenges the 250 non-ringleaders to an incense contest. In the meantime, G-d makes an example of Korach, Dathan and Aviram by swallowing not only them but their whole uninvolved families straight into the earth. Then, kinda as an afterthought while everyones already reeling, the 250 community leaders who had followed those three are consumed by fire. The people as a whole protest this so G-d strikes them with a plague that by the time Aharon and Moshe expiate the people, has killed over 100 gross of Isrealites. there's a staff test. Aharon wins of course, and the chapter closes out with a re-iteration that (timer goes off) the Levites have both a special charge and a special prohibition on owning things. 

Jaz: Alright you went a little over, but —

Lulav: Alas! (laughing) 

Jaz: — solid! Nice job. 

Lulav: Thank you. I was originally going to write something significantly more flippant, but this is with the distaste to a minimum. (laughing).

Jaz: Fair enough. Yeah, it's a whole deal isn't it? Okay, I'll take us through it a little bit more slowly, and as we go, we'll pause for questions and discussion with both of you. 

Lulav: Yeah. 

Xava: Fabulous. 

Lulav: As I usually say when I'm the one running through this, Xava, jump in at any time to yell at us. (Xava and Jaz laughing) 

Xava: Great, I will, in true Jewish fashion. (Lulav laughs) 

Jaz: Good.  

Lulav: Good. 

Jaz: Okay, so as you said we have three new folks here, we have Korach, Dathan and Aviram — oh and On. 

Lulav: Oh yeah, where did he come from?

Xava: From Peleth apparently. (Jaz and Lulav laugh). 

Jaz: And there are Reubenites and they gather together a bunch of people — 250 representatives of different parts of the Isrealite community who are all really well respected and they march up to Moses and Aaron and say, “You can have gone too far, for all the community are holy and so, why are you special basically? Why are you acting like you're special?”

Lulav: Yasher koach. (laughs)

Xava: Right, yeah, it's very hard to respect Moses in this parsha (Lulav laughs). This is a strong anti-Moses parsha. I mean I'm already ahead of the Anti-Moses Sentiment Committee —

Lulav: (chuckles) Okay. 

Xava:— but this really seals the deal. (Lulav laughs) 

Lulav: For a little of historical context, I'm recording this in Minneapolis, about a week after Geoge Floyd was murdered, and several days into the National Guard patrolling the streets at night and police making an example out of any protester they can get their hands on. So this is timely for me; unfortunately, probably won't be timely for the listeners. 

Xava: Mm hmm. 

Jaz: Listen, protest against authority is always timely. 

Lulav: Yeah. 

Xava: It's true, and I have no reason to think that by the time this episode comes out, things will be resolved. 

Lulav: Oh, definitely not resolved. 

Jaz: We record ahead of time but not that much ahead of time. (Xava and Lulav laugh)

Xava: Yeah, it feels very like, Korax is speaking — when he says here that all of the community is holy, he's speaking in a way that's clearly relevant to our lives today.

Lulav: Mm hmm. 

Xava: And in a way that, that's hard to bring an argument against and I think it's important to know a lot of people that grew up in a religious Jewish context, who are sort of raised with the commentary taught to them at the same time as Tanakh, believe that it's pretty self-evident that Korach was self serving in this rebellion, 

Lulav: Mm hmm. 

Xava: So it seems obvious, I feel like, to people without that commentary that Korax was a good actor but there's a camp of people who believe that he was obviously a bad actor — an agent provocateur, if you will. 

Lulav: (laughs) An outside instigator?

Xava: Exactly, exactly. Discrediting the whole movement. 

Lulav: Despite having a clear lineage to Levi. 

Xava: Right! 

Jaz: This is a good question. Lulav, had you read this before we were reading this for the podcast? 

Lulav: I have never read parshat Korach before. 

Jaz: Yeah. 

Lulav: This is completely new to me. 

Jaz: Yeah. So I read it before as in like, before we were recording but not that much before. (Lulav laughs) Like, I heard of Korach probably for the first time this year; this wasn't a story I grew up with.

Lulav: Okay. 

Jaz: But it is true that when you read commentaries on it, like, the commentary I read did sort of include these references to him as like, doing this out of self interest, like Xava was saying. 

Xava: Right, which Xava does not believe, (Lulav laughs) that he did it out of self interest. 

Jaz: No! 

Xava: Xava believes that that is facist propaganda. 

Jaz: Yeah! 

Lulav: That is a story that you can tell, like, there is a universe of which is happened where Korach was self interested but that doesn't mean that the charge of all of the community are holy, all of them and Hashem is in our midst, don't raise yourself above of us — that doesn't mean that that's wrong. 

Jaz: Yeah. 

Xava: Right, it's true, even if he was acting in self-interest, his ideology is still solid. 

Jaz: Yeah. 

Lulav: Dayenu. (Xava and Lulav laugh)

Xava: May we all act with self-interested, but righteous ideology. (Lulav laughs)

Jaz: Amen, alright so Moses, hearing somebody come and say hey actually all of us are holy falls on his face on the ground, (Lulav chuckles) and then maybe from the ground, a little unclear, (Xava chuckles) speaks to all of them and says, “In the morning G-d will tell us who is holy for real,” and then says everybody should take a fire pan, I think it is like a thing that you light a fire in —

Lulav: Mm hmm! 

Jaz:— and put incense in it. 

Xava: Yeah, like a brazier. 

Jaz: Yeah! 

Lulav: Notably the things that Eliab and Nadahu —

Xava: Yes I was just thinking this is a call back to the eish zarah. 

Lulav:— was that the…?

Jaz: Yeah! 

Lulav: Yeah. 

Jaz: Yeah. But it doesn't look like they're lighting fires. It looks like G-d will light a fire in whoever has the closest connection with G-d. 

Lulav: Mm hmm. 

Xava: Oh! This is like a prequel to when that happens with Eliyahu HaNavi, in the future. 

Lulav: Ahh. 

Jaz: Oooh! 

Xava: Yeah. Just to contextualize, I don't remember exactly where it is in Tanax, but in the future there is a story of where Eliyahu HaNavi is sort of in a contest with the prophets of Baal, and they each make their alters and Eliyahu is like you chant to your G-d and I'll chant to my G-d, and whichever G-d is real will light a fire on the altar, so — 

Lulav: Hmm. 

Xava: this is sort of like a prefiguring of that contest. 

Jaz: Nice. That's a great connection. And then, Moses continues and interestingly, I guess my text notes that he speaks further to Korach but addresses it more broadly to all of b’nei Levi and says basically, “Is it not enough for you that you're already a Levi? Aren't you important enough? now you think that you have to be as good as me too? I get to be more important than you (Lulav chuckles), and you are rebelling against G-d by your actions.” (Lulav sighs) 

Xava: Mmm. 

Jaz: Any thoughts? (Lulav giggles)

Xava: Yeah, this is gonna get old, me being the anti-Moses brigade, but that's just how Hashem made me. (Lulav giggles) I don't feel like Korax is necessarily saying that he should be raised above everyone else, that the Levites should be kohanim, he's just advocating for a more horizontal structure of the whole people. 

Lulav: Right, kohanim could still be special, they're just not the only people who commune with G-d. 

Xava: Right, I think Korax wants direct access to G-d for all, (Lulav laughs) and this has been like, a battle in many religious traditions right, there's this idea that like, oh most people have to follow the low religion but then if you're truly elevated, (Lulav laughs) if you're a true tzadik then you can become a mystic and directly experience G-d and Korax is having none of it. 

Lulav: Mm hmm. 

Xava: Korax is like, no classism, not cast-sim, we can all experience the Infinite directly, and Moses is like, that does not work for my society. 

Lulav: So, I am not part of the anti-Moses brigade, I am in the Moshe-was-progressive-to-some-extent-but-as-soon-as-he-got-a-taste-of-power-became-a-bootlicking-liberal (Xava and Jaz laugh) brigade. Uhmmm. 

Xava: Yeah. And that doesn't make you anti-Moses somehow. (Jaz laughs) 

Lulav: No! I'm Moshe-critical. (Xava and Lulav laugh) 

Xava: Okay. I know you'll be on the right side of the barricades when the time comes. (Lulav and Jaz laugh)

Jaz: So, then, Moshe does an attempt at strike breaking basically (Lulav laughs) and calls for Korach’s buddies, Dathan and Aviram and, yes, and those two—

Lulav: (laughing) On is just not included this time, by the way. 

Jaz: Yup, not included this time—

Lulav: He dipped, I guess. 

Xava: Yeah. He was On deck, (Jaz laughs) you know, but didn't quite make the cut. 

Lulav: Ayyye (Xava laughs). 

Jaz: And is basically like, aren't you grateful? And they're like… no… and Moses complains to G-d and is like “I didn't do anything wrong to any of them! Why are they being like this?” G-d does not answer this question, and then… 

Lulav: Hey, sorry, can I just detour us?

Jaz: Yes. 

Lulav: This is where he says, “I have not taken the ass of any one of them nor have I wronged any one of them,” right?

Jaz: Yup! 

Xava: Yes, it's true. 

Lulav: Is that just like, I'm not a donkey thief, (Jaz laughs) or?

Xava: I am literally seeing the word chamor, a donkey, in there. 

Lulav: Okay. 

Xava: A chamor is also a donkey but the root, the shoresh, chet mem resh, can also mean a burden or an obligation —

Lulav: Okay. 

Xava:— so many there's another valence going on here that's like, I haven’t inappropriately burdened these people? 

Jaz: Hmmm. 

Lulav: Mm hmm. That makes sense. Okay, so he's justifying himself by saying all of the tithes and rituals are not an inappropriate burden, is maybe the undertone here?

Xava: I was thinking more that in the previous verses they're complaining about having to go through the wilderness —

Lulav: Mm hmm. 

Xava:— and I think Moses is sort of saying like “I haven't done anything to you that I didn't do to anyone else! (Lulav laughs) We're all in the wilderness together. We're all suffering. I didn't give you any particular burder, so why are you being a particular pain in my... chamor?” (Lulav laughs)

Jaz: Yeah, also it seems like in this context of them saying, “You brought us out of a land flowing with milk and honey and now we might die in the wilderness,” he's like, Egypt was not that. But also they say that, “Even if you had brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, should you gouge out those subordinates’ eyes,” which feels a little bit of a like, (Lulav chuckles) hey even if you've done good things, that doesn't mean you can now do bad things with impunity. And I appreciate that as a nice bit of praxis. 

Xava: Right. 

Lulav: Mm hmm. 

Jaz: Being like, your argument that we should be grateful doesn't hold up because just cuz you did some good things in the past doesn't mean that you can now institute inequality in our new system. 

Xava: Mm hmm. 

Lulav: Even if we lived in a promised land of opportunity and equality, should you shoot 40 ml rounds into people's eyes?

Jaz: (unhappily) Mmmm. 

Xava: No. Davka, no. (Lulav and Jaz laugh)

Jaz: Thank you for that definitive answer. (Xava laughs) Okay, and then they each bring this fire pan and the whole community comes and G-d’s presence comes and says, “Stand back!”

Xava: I wanna interrupt for a second to say —

Jaz: Yup. 

Xava:— previously we discussed that they might not be putting fire in the pans, right?

Jaz: Mm hmm. 

Xava: They're waiting for G-d to light the pans, but —

Lulav: Mm hmm. 

Xava:— here it says each of them took their fire pan and put fire in it. 

Jaz: Oooh, yeah. 

Xava: So, I think they are lighting their own fires and just seeing whose incense is eish zarah and whose isn't. 

Lulav: Mm hmm, though notably Moshe and Aharon are also offering incense from their fire pans. 

Xava: Right, yes, everyone is putting their reputation on the line. Everyone is lip syncing for their lives. (Lulav laughs)

Jaz: Is the implication of that then that if some of them are eish zarah the fire will kill them?

Xava: I mean something’s going to kill them. (Lulav chuckles)

Jaz: Yeah… 

Lulav: Spoilers, gosh. 

Xava: (laughs) I feel the foreshadowing was pretty heavy. 

Lulav: Mm hmm. 

Xava: At this point if I was watching this movie I would be like, “Don't light that incense! Don't go in that room!” (Lulav laughs). 

Lulav: I mean, if you skip the episode with the two sons of Aharon (Xava and Lulav laugh), you might be forgiven. 

Xava: Right! Oh my gosh and I never even thought about the parallel, like, Aharon is the good one here, the person who was the father of the people who offered the eish zarah is now —

Lulav: Mm hmm. 

Xava: —”on the side of good”. Quotation marks. Heavy, sarcastic quotation marks. 

Lulav: (Giggles) Oh so, yeah Korach gets the whole community together to watch. 

Xava: That's right, unionize! One big union. (Lulav giggles)

Jaz: Accountability! Yeah. 

Xava: One big Jew-nion. (chuckles)

Jaz: (laughs) Yeah, and then so, it seems like G-d kind of goes back and forth in who G-d is speaking to here, because we have this bit about the presence of G-d appears to the whole community, then speaks just go Moshe and Aharon, and then a couple of verses later just to Moshe, and is having either the two brothers or just Moshe transmit these messages to the whole community that is currently mad at them. It’s a hell of a dynamic. 

Lulav: Sorry, when does Hashem speak to the whole community?

Jaz: Never. 

Lulav: Oh, okay. (laughs) 

Jaz: I mean in this segment but —

Lulav: Gotcha. 

Jaz:— in 16:19 that verse is, “Korach gathered the whole community against them at the entrance of the tent of meeting, then the presence of G-d appeared to the whole community”. 

Lulav: Mm. Okay. 

Xava: Right, this is very, I think, affective union busting tactics is that the presence of G-d appears, it doesn't speak to everyone, and then the only source we have is Moses and Aaron relaying the words and we actually know from Talmud that Moses is known to alter Hashem's words. (Lulav giggles)

Jaz: Yeah!

Xava: Like, that's a known fact of what he does, so, for all we know Hashem appeared and was like, “yeah, Korax is right,” and Moses was like, “Stay back!” You know, I personally feel like we have no reason to trust what Moses is relaying here given his hidden agenda. 

Lulav: I mean, G-d’s telling me to stand back so that they can annihilate you but I'm going to take a knee with you. I’m part of these protests. 

Jaz: Aaaah! 

Xava: Right, exactly. Union busting is disgusting, Moses.

Lulav: (giggles) So Jaz, then what happens?

Jaz: So then he says to everybody like, move away from the tents, leave the places where Korach and Dathan and Aviran live because otherwise you'll be wiped out, and so everybody like, backs away. And Korach and Dathan and Aviran come out to see what's happening, and they are like, with their whole family and their spouses and their kids. And Moshe has this whole grand like, you gotta imagine, or at least I do, there's like little bits of lightning in the background and then wind and whatever — he's giving this dramatic speech about how, it's not me, it's G-d, and says if G-d wants to put down this rebellion, the earth will swallow them up and they will be eaten alive by the earth, and if that happens you'll know that they have turned away from G-d, and, when he's done speaking there's an earthquake and it phrases it as like, “the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up with their households, all of their people and their possessions, and they went down alive into Sheol.” 

Xava: So, this is obviously the grand finale. 

Lulav: Also a war crime. 

Xava: Yeah (laughing), also a war crime. Here is my drash, and this will come out later in my poem but I'm very attached to this drash. First, it's important to know that we only have a few examples of times in Tanax when people disappeared from the earth but did not die, and —

Lulav: Hmm! 

Xava:— And in all of those times the people who disappeared were great prophets and saints. (Lulav laughs)

Jaz: Yeah. 

Xava: So that's one important thing to note. So here is my opinion, the mouth in the earth is actually like an Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole that took Korax away from a time when his vision of liberation — the world wasn't ready for it, and when the time comes that the world is ready for everyone to be holy, then the mouth in the earth will open and Korax will come out having travelled through time. 

Jaz: Yes. 

Lulav: This is challenging. (Xava laughs) You got time-travelling prophets of the people, okay okay.

Jaz: To be fair the whole family, and several families are down there; they could just be building their own will anarchist civilization!

Lulav: Aweee. 

Jaz: Did you ever read that book series for children — what's it called, Ember?

Xava: Oh yeah, New City of Ember.

Jaz: Yeah! There is an underground civilization cuz that stuff is happening on the above-ground world and they're like well maybe we can do better underground for a few generations. 

Xava: Yeah, or if you've ever read The Dispossessed by Ursula K Le Guin, who I think is a sage, basically the plot is there's a planet with an inhabitable moon and they send all the anarchists to it and the anarchists build their own civilization and later on the the anarchists come back and bring anarchy back to the capitalistic civilization. 

Lulav: In a wose sci-fi direction (Xava laughs), in Neal Stephenson's Seveneves —

Xava: Oh my G-d, I just read that book.

Lulav: Oh you did, cool! I think. I'm going to say cool. So like, Elon Musk and Neil deGrasse Tyson escape into space, but there are also people left on the earth as the moon just crashes into it and so some doomsday preppers survive and make a civilization of mole people underground.

Xava: It's true. Have you read Anathem by Neal Stephenson?

Lulav: I have. 

Xava: Oh my G-d, that's one of my favourite books in the whole world.

Lulav: It would be. 

Xava: Sticky note, let's talk about that in the future, I'm always looking for people to talk about the Jewish implications of Anathem with me. 

Lulav: Oh, I'm going to have to re-read that, aren't I?

Xava: (laughs) Sorry to put that khumra upon you (Lulav laughs). Okay. Let's focus on our time travelling parsha, right. (Lulav laughs)

Jaz: Okay, so Lulav, you were saying that you have some struggles with this? 

Lulav: Oh no not struggles so much as just, okay, time travelling prophets of the people, cool cool cool. (Xava laughs) 

Jaz: Great. Do you have a different drash that you want to offer us for what's happening here with Korach?

Lulav: I like this in the context that Moshe and Aharon are not faithfully transmitting the words of Hashem and that Hashem is trying to find a way to maintain the society that they've built while also letting the really cool people walk with G-d. 

Jaz: Mmm. 

Lulav: The way that Enoch and Eliyahu did. 

Jaz: Yeah. 

Xava: Right, and it's sort of allowing the Israelites to continue and develop in the way that they needed to. 

Lulav: Mm hmm. 

Jaz: Yeah. 

Xava: They clearly weren't ready — to consider yourself as holy as the holiest person in the people like, that's a hefty responsibility to lay upon yourself — 

Lulav: Yeah. 

Xava: —like, they clearly were not ready for it so this created for an opportunity for us to grow up as a people until we were all ready to be Korax-y. (Lulav laughs)

Jaz: Mmm. You know, i was trying to double check, I think it was last week, maybe the week before — Lulav, if you remember, help me — but that there was a moment when there were a couple of people who were prophesying —

Lulav: Mm! 

Jaz:— who weren't supposed to be and somebody comes to report it, and Moshe says, “Oh this is wonderful. It would be wonderful if everybody was a prophet.”

Lulav: Yeah. 

Jaz: And that feels more  sort of, more in the spirit of what Korach was saying, except that, Moshe was down with it that time. 

Lulav: I do believe that was Behaalotecha, because I remember Julia getting a hand on that ball. 

Jaz: Great. 

Lulav: Nice. So lots of stuff in this part of the Tanakh about the multiplicity of prophets? 

Jaz: Yeah. 

Xava: A diversity of tactics.

Jaz: Yeah! I brought that up mostly because I wanted to see if either of you have a thought about the seeming contradiction or flip in Moshe as a leader maybe —

Xava: Right. 

Jaz:— about why he was down with that sense of everybody having access last time, and not anymore. 

Xava: Well, here's my drash, which is that as long as people were just prophesying, which — 

Lulav: Mm hmm. 

Xava:— is really important but doesn't necessarily entail structural change (Lulav chuckles) then Moses was down to clown, but as soon as people were requesting a transformation of the material conditions of society then he just could not get down with that. 

Lulav: And that completely tracks with Moshe is a liberal. (Jaz laughs) 

Xava: Mm hmm. 

Lulav: So I co-sign that statement. (laughs) 

Jaz: All right, can we keep moving?

Lulav: Yeah! 

Xava: Mm hmm! 

Jaz: All right, so Korach is now in the earth, the people flee so that they do not also get swallowed by the earth, and the fire comes forth and all 250 people who were offering the incense who were not Moshe and Aharon get consumed by the fire. 

Lulav: Mm hmm. 

Jaz: All that's left is these kind of charred remains of these fire pans, and G-d speaks to Moshe and says, tell Elazar, one of Aharon’s sons, and a priest of his own right, to take the fire pans because all of them are now sacred, and take them from out of the coals and make them into these hammered sheets that will cover up the altar because they're now holy and should be part of this holy thing. 

Lulav: Jaz, how do you feel about them now being holy? Or, sacred specifically? Like what does that mean to you, how does that feel?

Jaz: I feel complicated about it because on the one hand, a lot of people just died and I don't quite know what it means for the things that they used to offer fire in being holy but their lives weren’t valued enough to persist?

Lulav: Mm hmm. 

Jaz: I do think that when Nadab and Abihu were consumed by fire, they said eish zarah, like they weren't made part of the altar, like that wasn't considered holy fire, that there's something about this one that makes is special to be held up as an example for the people and I do kind of like that. Like, I do think it inherently suggests that there is something really good and admirable and beautiful happening there, enough that it should be preserved in our literal holiest space. 

Lulav: Yeah 

Xava: I feel like for me it's hard that the plates are put on the altar, I feel like it's the equivalent of like, displaying the bodies of your enemies on the walls. They're basically like —

Jaz: Mmm. 

Xava:— these people died, and if you don't want to be like them do not test us or you will die, and I don't know, I think it's important to deal with the fact that sometimes really dark and messed up stuff is incorporated into our tradition, you know?

Lulav: Yeah. 

Jaz: Yeah. 

Xava: And as much as we have to rescue and elevate the holy parts, we have to like, reckon with and put to rest stuff like this, in my opinion. 

Lulav: So the hammered sheets of the fire pans are at once a commemoration of people who were doing a technically good thing, and also a trophy from people who offered alien fire. 

Xava: Yeah, they're a trophy to present it, and it says in verse 5, “it was a reminder to the Isrealites so that no outsider, one not of Aaron’s offspring should presume to offer incense before the Lord and suffer the fate of Korax.” 

Jaz: Yeah. 

Xava: Also though, maybe you can think of it as a sign, maybe it was like a, “Hey, if you are wise enough to be of the same ilk as Korax, this is the directions for how to open up the mouth of the earth and go to the underground anarchist commune.”

Lulav: Another thing might be like, hey don't fight symmetrical warfare against the established power structures, or you will die.

Xava: Ooh, yeah, I think that's an excellent point. If anything, I would say that's Korax's biggest mistake is agreeing to challenge Moses on Moses' own terms. 

Jaz: Mm! 

Lulav: If you bring all of the Newsies to a rally in a theater (Jaz laughs) they are gonna get busted up by the cops. 

Xava: You know, this too is Torah. (Jaz and Lulav laugh) 

Jaz: Oh G-d. 

Lulav: Sorry, Jaz and I were watching Newsies last night. 

Jaz: So I just think, we have other ways that people are told to deal with people who are considered enemies of the Israelites and this is an unusual one. I do know the traditional interpretation of it as a warning and a trophy and I see the value in sort of struggling with that and holding that and recognizing that that's what it is, but I don't know, I also see something in — like, we're told to wipe out the name of Amalek and this is really opposite of that. Generally, people who are sort of considered enemies of the people aren't put on the ark. 

Lulav: Mm hmm. 

Jaz: There's something about putting them on the ark that feels special and honoring to me, even given everything else. But we can move on. 

Lulav: Okay. 

Jaz: The whole Israelite community sees that all 250 of the these people have died and are furious and they come gather and Moshe and Aharon are talking with G-d about it and we have this thing that says, G-d spoke to Moshe, and said, “Get out of the way so I can annihilate all of these people,” and Moshe and Aharon don't want that to happen so Ahraon makes this sacrifice, like a similar type of incense deal. 

Lulav: An incense offering. 

Jaz: Yeah, an incense offering, sort of on Moses' instructions, and in the meantime, thousands of people are dying of plague, and they sort of say it as, he's doing this incense offering really quickly so if he does more of it quicker, fewer people will die. But in the end, they have over 14,000 people dead. 

Xava: I'm reading a really interesting Rashi comment on this Aaron taking the incense out. One really interesting thing about it is that Rashi says that Aaron literally confronted the angel of death and was like, holding the angel of death back physically and saying like, don't go do this plague and they had an argument about that. But also, even more interesting to me is that one of the reasons he was doing this with incense is because so many had died in incense-related incidents so far that they needed an opportunity to prove that the incense was also good. (Lulav laughs) 

Lulav: G-d. (Xava laughs) Okay. 

Xava: So this whole thing was an opportunity to be like, don't worry, incense is a medicine too. (Lulav chuckles) It doesn't just kill everyone. 

Lulav: (sighs) I love incense related deaths as like, a category. (Lulav and Xava laugh) 

Jaz: There's a shocking number of them. (Lulav laughs) 

Xava: It's been xero days since the last incense related incident. (Lulav and Jaz laugh) 

Jaz: Yeah. 

Lulav: So then what happens? 


Jaz: So then…  

Lulav: Staff contest. (laughs) 

Jaz: Yeah, and a weird one. Not that there's a not weird version of this, but each head of one of the 12 ancestral houses gives a staff signed with their name and it's like another test of who should be in charge, even after this sort of incense battle and G-d says, “The staff of the person I've chosen will sprout and therefore the people will stop talking about it because they'll have proof,” so Moshe tell the Israelites this and everyone gives him a staff, including Aaron, and Aaron's sprouts and has blossoms and makes almonds and everybody gets their own staff back and is like, “yup, this one's mine,” so then they show Aaron's staff prominently so that everybody can see it. 

Lulav: Just a quick linguistic note; we talked before about how the divisions of the Israelite people by ancestral house are called staves, “matot.”

Jaz: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Xava: Mm

Lulav: And the word used here for “take a staff” for each of them is “mateh,” so this is related to the synecdoche of staffs. 

Jaz: Yeah. 

Xava: Yeah. So I was reading a really cool academic article the other day that was talking about this, and I haven't fully finished it, so I'm talking a little bit out of turn. But we know that the worship of the Canaanite goddess Asherah was pretty popular throughout Israelite history. They really couldn't resist and her worship was often affected through standing poles, basically, like, standing wooden poles were sites of worship for Asherah and this person was making this case that this flowering staff was basically a way for the cult of Hashem to safely integrate the Asherah into the Tabernacle. 

Jaz: Ooh. 

Xava: Right, because the staff does end up getting to be put in the Tabernacle, so it's sort of a legitimate asherah. 

Lulav: Hmm

Jaz: That's neat. Thank you for adding that. 

Xava: Yeah. My pleasure. 

Jaz: Do you know if there's significance to it being almonds that are produced? 

Xava: I don't know but I want to learn. 

Jaz: Do either of you happen to know off the top of your head if almonds are one of the seven species? Because I don't think that they are, but I also don't have that list memorized. 

Lulav: Wheat, barley, grape, figs, pomegranates, olive (in the form of oil) and date (in the form of honey). 

Jaz: Cool! Thank you. 

Lulav: So no. (laughs) 

Jaz: So then... this is supposed to kind of quell people's muttering is what they're saying and Moshe does all the things but the Israelites are not happy. They're very upset and they keep goin oh we're all gonna die, we're all gonna die, we're all gonna die, if we go anywhere near the mishkan, we're all gonna die. And G-d says this time just to Aharon, “Here's a bunch of things that the Levites are going to do, like, what your work in the mishkan is going to look like.” And they don't answer this thing from the israelites about oh we're all gonna die directly, but G-d does start with this line about “you and your children and the ancestral house under your charge shall bear any guilt connected with the sanctuary. You and your children alone shall bear any guilt connected with the priesthood,” which feels like it's kind of a slant answer to the thing about how people don't need to be worried if it's just for priests. But, thoughts? 


Xava: Yeah. It sort of seems like Hashem is telling them, like, I'm going to make it permanently so no more Korax's are going to rise up against you and so because that's the case, you're going to get all the benefits of the priesthood but also you will have to take all the negative impacts as well.

Lulav: Is this a new thing?

Jaz: What do you mean?

Lulav: I feel like this has been a thing since the establishment of the priesthood, that they bear the guilt of the sanctuary and of the priesthood and they are beholden to the community for their survival. This reads to me as kind of a restatement of things we've already learned about what it means to be a priest, but very intentionally set against this popular uprising, basically.

Xava: I think maybe it's new for it to be stated explicitly that Aharon and his sons will be guilty even for the accidental iniquity of others, so if you accidentally touch part of the mishkan now, that goes on to Aharon.

Lulav: Okay.

Xava: Now instead of everyone being responsible to make sure they don't violate it, only Aharon is responsible, including for like, everyone else's ignorance.

Lulav: Hmm.

Jaz: Is this kind of an offering of a different system, of, instead of anarchist, “we all bear responsibility and therefore we all get equal power,” it's, “you'll get more power but also you have a, the-buck-stops-at-the-top type of deal?”

Xava: Yeah. Yes. I do think so.

Lulav: Yeah, I think it's for sure different from the proposed Korachi-ic system but I don't think that this is a significant difference from the system that we've been building over the last two books.

Jaz: Mm. It might sort of just be making it more explicit?

Lulav: Yeah.

Xava: Yeah.

Lulav: That's what I think.

Xava: And intensification of the already existing dynamic.

Jaz: Yeah. Alright, and then there's this sort of continued playing out of things we'd already been seeing for a while, of like, the priests get to eat the offerings and they do the work in the mishkan to clean everything and here are the first fruits and people bring firstborn animals and also people to the temple when you get one and in the meantime to the mishkan and then we have this note that it shall be an everlasting covenant of salt (Lulav and Xava chuckle) between the Eternal and for your offspring as well, so, I put to you all, what do you think a covenant of salt is?

Xava: We shall everlastingly be salty with Hashem.

Jaz: Yes.

Lulav: Yasher koach. (Xava and Jaz laugh) It was previously talked about that salt is something holy for G-d, that it symbolized eternity because salt helps preserve meat.

Xava: Yeah, that's what Rashi says.

Jaz: You're a second Rashi. (laughs)

Lulav: (laughs) Rashi had something to say about Torah? No way!

Xava: I know, shocking. Since it's a covenant by means of salt, which is something that's wholesome and lasting and keeps other things wholesome. (Lulav chuckles) Tell that to Lot's wife.

Jaz: Yeah!

Xava: I think that is a well-established thing, but also I really like the reading of, yeah, we're just going to be salty forever. (Jaz and Xava laugh)

Jaz: Great. And there's this note that the priests don't get land; they just exist on all of these other things and everybody else has land.

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Jaz: Yeah, and that the priests get tithes as well, and that they also have restrictions. We end on this bit that's like, you must not profane the sacred donation of the Israelites, lest you die. (Lulav chuckles) Is there anything you wanted to comment on in these last donations or territorial bits here?

Lulav: There's one thing that popped up for me?

Jaz: Mm hmm.

Lulav: Like the mishkan or an ogre, there are layers to the donations that are eaten by the priests and Levites. The most holy of the donations are reserved for men and the less holy but still holy donations are for Levites in general.

Xava: I think my only statement about Levite lands and offerings is I really think it's interesting, the Levites are dependent on lands and offerings, which seems like sort of a way of saying, like, and thus, you better keep doing your job because you have no claim to producing a livelihood of your own, so if you don't continue to do a good job at the temple, tough luck.

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Jaz: Ooh.

Xava: Which resonated for me as someone who survives off a Patreon from my Talmud podcast and beit midrash. It's like, I better keep teaching good Talmud or else the people shall cut me off.

Lulav: May there be a future that does not require it.

Xava: Uch. Amen.

Jaz: Yeah. I mean, its fascinating in that respect too, Xava, because it suggests that they rejected Korach's situation because it required them to give up their power, but this situation that they have set up instead doesn't work for them either actually. It's one of those things like how you get people who are working against their own class interests because they're invested in the existing power structure.

Lulav: Mm.

Xava: Can you say more about that? I'm not quite sure I understood how this doesn't work for them.

Jaz: Well, if the Levites are dependent on the donations of others, and also we know that there's, like we know Lulav was saying, different restrictions for different Levites, so some of them are doubly dependent on the donations of others, that it's not a stable system in which even all of the Levites are provided for.

Xava: Yeah, I think somewhat, but also it really mirrors how society is organized now.

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Xava: Like, the working class produced the value and the Levites consume it. And the Levites have various powers, I think, that help them keep the working class producing the value. I don't know. I'm not sure it does or doesn't work for them. I feel like I'm not enough of a halaxic know-it-all to know whether this is more like the Levites being the bourgeoisie or if the Levites are also a dependent class. It remains to be explored by a wiser Marxist than myself. (Lulav chuckles)

Jaz: Well, that's I think a good question to leave us on. Xava, I think you have a poem for us?

Xava: Oh, yes. 

Lulav: Yeah, you mentioned earlier!

Xava: I just have this really short little poem that I really like that I wrote called "For Korax" and it's about that drash that I had earlier, and now I will read it to you. Here is the poem that was spoken to the people of Kosher Queers. (Lulav laughs)

"I choose to believe
The mouth in the earth
Swallowing you up
Is a portal from
Then to a time when
A society has been built
Where every person is
Actually treated as holy
And Moses has become

Lulav: Hmm.

Jaz: Mm. That's so beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

Xava: My honor.

Lulav: And so we come to Rating G-d's Writing, (Xava chuckles) Jaz's favorite segment, in which we each invent a scale and then have the others among us rate the parsha according to that scale.

Xava: Lovely. Okay, on a binary scale —

Lulav: Uh oh. 

Xava: — of xero to one mouths of the earth, Lulav, how many mouths of the earth would you rate the parsha?

Lulav: I'm so glad you gave me the weird one —

Jaz: I'm also so glad —

Lulav: Mostly because it means Jaz won't complain about it (all laugh) and I think, hmm. I will give one mouth of the earth (Xava laughs) because I am kind of a goblin. (Jaz laughs) I like dark spaces, and so descending into the mouth of the earth is appealing to me, and additionally, I think in order to get good readings of this parsha, we need to kind of look at it from the underside, put ourselves in a mentality of the people who get swallowed up in this parsha. And so, you may interpret that one mouth of the earth as either swallowing up this parsha because it is an abomination (Xava laughs) or swallowing up this parsha because it walks with G-d.

Jaz: Aw.

Xava: That is great. That was a great rating.

Lulav: Thank you. Hmm, Jaz, out of 100 gross and 15 score people (Jaz sighs) who die of plague before you can get the essential oils out, how many dead people would you rate this parsha?

Jaz: (Jaz whines inarticulately, then, heavily) How many is a gross?

Lulav: A gross is 144.

Jaz: Okay.

Lulav: It's a dozen dozen.

Jaz: Okay.

Lulav: So that gets us 144,00 and then there are another 300, which is 15 score.

Jaz: Great. Okay.

Lulav: Sorry. Accountant child. (laughs)

Jaz: I wasn't aware that accounts used measures like "gross."

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Jaz: Okay. I am gonna rate this one, like — no, I'm just going to give you a number in numbers. (pages rustling) 

Lulav: Yes, please.

Xava: A number in numbers... in Numbers.

Lulav: Whoa.

Jaz: Oooh. So, I would give this parsha just 1000, because I feel like you gave me a scale of dead people and I want fewer dead people, so we're doing golf rules here where lower is better. (Lulav laughs)

Lulav: That's fair!

Jaz: But I do feel in general pretty positively about this, especially given sort of Xava's interpretations of it.

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Jaz: I think what we were saying about, you still have to grapple with the hard things in the parsha — there are really hard things in this parsha. A lot of people die.

Lulav: Yeah.

Jaz: But 1000 people dying is still a lot of people dying (Lulav laughs) so I feel like we still have that one covered. Okay.

Lulav: I can't believe that you took a direct linear scale and made it inverse. (laughs)

Jaz: Listen, I can be creative too.

Lulav: Yeah. That's so charming of you. I want to hear your scale for Xava.

J; Okay. Xava, out of 250 union organizers (Xava laughs) how many union organizers would you give this parsha?

Xava: I would give this parsha 251 union organizers, as you know, it's my favorite parsha in the Torah. I believe that it contains just like, such important messages for me and my life as a Korax-y Jew, and I give it an extra union organizer because I believe there's more in it that I haven't even apprehended yet and I want to account for some of that mystery in my rating.

Jaz: That's so lovely! Thank you.

Lulav: So, you are rating it Celebi (Xava laughs) out of all the Pokemon that were available second generation —

X (overlapping): Celebi is my favorite!

Lulav: Oh well, there we go! (laughs)

Xava: They're so cute. They're just a little forest fairy trying to protect nature and I respect that.

Lulav: Cool. Jaz, can you take us to the close?

Jaz: Yeah. Thanks for listening to Kosher Queers! If you like what you’ve heard, you can support us on Patreon at, which will give you bonus content and help us keep making this for you. You can also follow us on Twitter @kosherqueers or like us on Facebook at Kosher Queers, or email us your questions, comments, and concerns at, and please spread the word about our podcast! Our artwork is by the talented Lior Gross. Our music is courtesy of the fabulous band Brivele, whose work you can find on Bandcamp. Go buy their album, they’re great. Our sound production this week is done by our excellent audio editor, Ezra Faust. 

Lulav: Our transcript team of Jaz, Reuben, DiCo, and Khesed brings you full transcripts of every episode. You can find a link to those in the episode descriptions on Buzzsprout.

Jaz: I’m Jaz Twersky and you can find me @WordNerdKnitter on Twitter. I recorded this audio on the traditional lands of the Ohlone people. 

Lulav: Xava, where can we find you on the internet?

Xava: You can find me on my podcast at You can also find me at Twitter @xaihowareyou. Soundcloud at xaihowareyou and Twitter @xaihowareyou. Unfortunately, I don't know the traditional holders of the land that I'm on right now, but I normally record on Providence, Rhode Island, on Narragansett land.

Lulav: Thank you. I’m Lulav Arnow and you can find me @spacetrucksix on Twitter, or yell at me @palmliker! I recorded this audio on the traditional lands of the Wahpékute and Anishinaabeg. Have a lovely queer Jewish day!
[Brivele outro music]

Lulav: This week's gender is peanut butter cake.

Jaz: This week's pronouns are ice, iceself.