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Numbers Chapter 17
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Deuteronomy

The Incense Pans
17:1 God spoke to Moses, saying,
17:2 'Tell Eleazar (son of Aaron the priest) that the fire pans have been sanctified, and he must gather them up from the burned area. He shall then scatter the burning coals far and wide.
17:3 The fire pans belonging to the men who committed a mortal sin have been presented before God and thus sanctified, so he shall make them into beaten plates to cover the altar. Let this be a sign for the Israelites.'
17:4 Eleazar took the copper fire pans that the victims of the fire had presented, and he beat them flat as a covering for the altar.
17:5 It was to be a reminder for the Israelites, so that no one other than a descendant of Aaron shall bring unauthorized fire and burn incense before God. They shall then not be like Korach and his party. [Eleazar thus did] as God had told him through Moses.

Fear and Complaint
17:6 The next day the entire Israelite community began to complain to Moses, 'You have killed God's people!' they exclaimed.
17:7 The people were demonstrating against Moses and Aaron, when they turned toward the Communion Tent. It was suddenly covered with the cloud, and God's glory appeared.
17:8 Moses and Aaron went to the front of the Communion Tent.

Aaron Saves the People
17:9 God spoke to Moses, saying,
17:10 'Stand clear of this community and I will destroy them in an instant.'

[Moses and Aaron] threw themselves on their faces.

17:11 Moses then said to Aaron, 'Take the fire pan and place on it some fire from the altar. Offer incense and go quickly to the community to make atonement for them. Divine wrath is coming forth from God. The plague has already begun!'
17:12 Aaron took [the pans] as Moses had told him, and he ran to the middle of the assembled masses, where the plague had already begun to kill people. He offered the incense to atone for the people.
17:13 He stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was checked.
17:14 The number of people who died in that plague was 14,700. These were in addition to the ones who died because of Korach's rebellion.
17:15 When the plague had been stopped, Aaron returned to Moses at the Communion Tent entrance.

The Test of Staffs
17:16 God spoke to Moses, telling him to
17:17 speak to the Israelites and take a staff from each paternal tribe. 'Twelve staffs shall thus be taken from all the leaders, [one] for [each] of their paternal tribes. Let each man write his name on his staff.
17:18 Since there shall be only one staff for the head of each paternal tribe, write Aaron's name on Levi's staff.
17:19 Place [the staffs] in the Communion Tent, before the [Ark of] Testimony where I commune with you.
17:20 The staff of the man who is My choice will then blossom. I will thus rid Myself of the complaints that the Israelites are directing at you.'
17:21 Moses spoke to the Israelites, and each of the leaders gave him a staff for his paternal tribe. There were twelve staffs, with Aaron's staff among them.
17:22 [Moses] placed the staffs before God in the Testimony Tent.
17:23 The next day, when Moses came to the Testimony Tent, Aaron's staff, representing the house of Levi, had blossomed. It had given forth leaves, and was [now] producing blossoms and almonds were ripening on it.
17:24 Moses brought all the staffs out from before God, and let all the Israelites see them. Each man took his own staff.

Aaron's Staff
17:25 God said to Moses, 'Put Aaron's staff back there before the [Ark of] Testimony as a keepsake. Let it be a sign for anyone who wants to rebel. This should put an end to their complaints to Me, and then they will not die.'
17:26 Moses did exactly as God had instructed him.

Fear of the Sanctuary
17:27 The Israelites said to Moses, 'We're going to die! We will be destroyed! We are all lost!
17:28 Whoever approaches God's Tabernacle dies! Are we then doomed to die?'



Commentary:

to cover
  The literal meaning (cf. Menachoth 99a). Josephus, however, states that they were made into ornamental plates that were placed near the altar (Antiquities 4:3:4).

unauthorized...
  See Exodus 30:9, Leviticus 10:1.

Eleazar thus did
  (Rashbam).

God spoke to Moses
  Some say that this occurred before Korach's rebellion (Yehudah HaChasid). The majority opinion, however, is that it was afterward (cf. Josephus, Antiquities 4:4:2).

Let each man write his name
  Or, 'let each [tribe] write its name' (Josephus, Antiquities 4:4:2).

leaves
  (Saadia, Radak, Sherashim; cf. Rambam on Shevi'ith 7:5, Kelayim 6:9). Or, 'buds and branches' (Josephus, Antiquities 4:4:2), or, 'buds' (Septuagint), or 'blossoms' (Rashi).

now
  (Rashbam; cf. HaKethav VeHaKabbalah).

blossoms
  (Radak, Sherashim; Septuagint). Or, 'unripe fruit' (Rashi), or, 'ripe fruit' (Josephus).

Ark
  (Midrash HaGadol). According to some, however, it was actually placed inside the ark (Ralbag).





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