Here’s the dramatic denouement of the Korah story. “… 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.”
Three brief reflections, each tied to a popular song lyric from the 70s or 80s.
First – Carole King’s great classic:
I feel the earth move under my feet,I feel the sky tumbling down, I feel my heart start to trembling, Whenever you’re around…
The image of the earth moving, and even opening its mouth, along with that of the sky tumbling down, describes the loss of control associated with being in love. Korah, whom the Midrash labels a ‘taker’ loves himself and his possessions, and not much else. The earth, perhaps, reciprocates.
Second – ‘The Boy in the Bubble’ (the first song on Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’):
These are the days of miracle and wonder, This is the long distance call, The way the camera follows us in slo-mo, The way we look to us all, The way we look to a distant constellation, That’s dying in a corner of the sky, These are the days of miracle and wonder, And don’t cry baby, don’t cry…
Says Pirkei Avot (5:8), Ten things were created at dusk on the eve of (the first) Shabbat, and these are they: the mouth of the earth (that swallowed up Korah and his band)…Says the Maharal of Prague (16th century) commenting on that teaching, “they are not entirely natural but they are close to nature, they are all physical objects and as such are part of nature, but insofar as they are unlike other physical objects they also stand outside of nature.” In other words, these are the days of miracle and wonder.
Third – Midnight Oil’s 80’s classic ‘Bed Are Burning’:
How can we dance when our earth is turning
How do we sleep while our beds are burning
How can we dance when our world feels upside down, when we are confronted with dizzying twists and turns on a daily, no, hourly basis? How can we sleep when it feels like the earth regularly – and not just to show Korah and company who’s boss – opens it mouth and swallows people and ideals and deeply held commitments alive? Ramban differentiates between the earth’s opening for Korah and more ‘normal’ occurrences like earthquakes. Normally, “the cracks remain open.” They feel wide open right about now.