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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

And One Wonders

Updated: Jun 9, 2021

Parshat Korach is surely a consequential Parshah. Ultimately it gives us a detailed view of the responsibilities of the Levites, but it is the path littered with revolt, plague and bloodshed. The parsha is called Korach after the initiator of a revolt against the powers of Moshe and also Aaron. For Korach and all who rose up against Moses, unspeakable punishment awaited as the earth opened up and swallowed those involved, including their wives and their families. This was a followed by a plague which killed thousands more. Only after these horrific scenes does God lay out the specifics of the jobs of the Levites.

As someone who writes these poems weekly, I was unable to get past the statement of the earth swallowing the guilty alive. These images brought images of the Holocaust, a particularly of Babi Yar, when so many thousands were shot and killed there. Many were buried alive, a fate which they shared with the kin of Korach.

1. And the techaylet was forgotten......

2. One Wonders

One wonders

in the midst of

the confusion and chaos

of Korach

the scenes in living color

the sliding avalanche of a people

threats and counter threats

for reasons wrong or right

internal plans

that spiraled into actions

a revolt in the desert

"...... the ground under them burst asunder, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up with their households, all Korah’s people and all their possessions."

Like an open sore in one's mouth

that one cannot stop picking

one returns

over and over


to these words

one blinks and looks again

the leaders,

the wives, their children,

future generations

lost, lost, lost

Over and over again

Like a bad dream

one barely notices

the paragraphs that follow

the staff that becomes an almond branch

the Levite's workload

the meat

the tithes

the incense pans

the sacrifices

"The earth swallowed them with their households."

For these words are too recent

these words are too true

Words that hit us

in our faces

like bricks

one by one

knocking us to our knees

suffocating us with their violence

These words,

these violent words

written in the heart

of the holiest book

are our nightmares.

How does one go forward from these verses?

For indeed the earth still

opens up

and swallows Jews

It has not finished its work

burying Jews alive

the revolutionaries

the show offs

the guilty

the innocent

believers and non believers

the women and the children

the babies

the old and the sick

those who said too much

and so many who said nothing at all

So many swallowed up by the earth

Never to be seen again

them or their descendants

This same earth that creates life.

This same earth becomes the blanket of death.

One wonders

and dares not look

at scarlet reds,

and drying browns

painted before one's eyes

One can never forget the mass graves

that heaved and breathed

as the living lay under the newly thrown earth

one cannot forget

the terror

the chaos

the dogs

the choking for air

the blood

the death

and those few

that tiny number

who struggled from the dead

their fingernails clawing the earth

the soil between their teeth

pushing away the earth

to begin anew

to stagger into the future

one wonders

one's mouth open

in silent screams

One cannot forget Babi Yar when one thinks of Korach

one cannot help but to wonder

one cannot help but to remember

one cannot help but to be horrified

One wonders

about fine lines

between good and evil

acceptable and unacceptable


the power to destroy

One wonders about God

and punishment

then and now

now and then

and one’s mind returns

and returns again

racing, tripping

their eyes open in surprise

we fall with them

face down in the earth

covered, covered

one wonders as one weeps for the fallen

with eyes downcast

with stomach in knots

one cannot erase the memory

of their ends

their lives unfinished



From Babi Yar

and Rovno

and Zhitomeer

and Berezneh

and Minsk

and Vilna

and Odessa

and Lvov

and Kishniev

and Riga

each life that lay there covered by

choked by the earth

the names fall from one's tongue

like drops of blood onto the earth

and one wonders

In memory of my aunts, my grandmother, my grandfather and a small child who were also swallowed by the earth in graves largely unmarked.

The universe is incomplete.

Numbers 16:30-33

Translation from Sefaria

But if the LORD brings about something unheard-of, so that the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, you shall know that these men have spurned the LORD.”

׃ Scarcely had he finished speaking all these words when the ground under them burst asunder, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up with their households, all Korah’s people and all their possessions.׃ They went down alive into Sheol, with all that belonged to them; the earth closed over them and they vanished from the midst of the congregation.

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