This week’s Torah Portion, Parshat Korach, recounts the story of yet another rebellion against the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Korach, along with Datan and Aviram and 250 of their closest friends, said that Moses took too much upon himself. As the only person to communicate with God, and Aaron as the Cohen Gadol (the High Priest) who ministered all of the workings of the Tabernacle, Korach, and his crowd felt that Moses and Aaron had too much power. The Torah recounts the words of Korach:
רַב-לָכֶם--כִּי כָל-הָעֵדָה כֻּלָּם קְדֹשִׁים, וּבְתוֹכָם יְהוָה; וּמַדּוּעַ תִּתְנַשְּׂאוּ, עַל-קְהַל יְהוָה
“You take too much upon yourself, seeing that all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and that God is among them; why then do you lift yourselves up above the assembly of God?” (Numbers 16:3)
Knowing the threat such a rebellion posed, Moses told Korach and his band to come back the next day, and in the presence of the entire community, they were to offer incense to God. At that time, God would show who was truly chosen to lead the Jewish People. In the morning, however, none of them showed up to face the challenge. To make matters worse, when Moses sent for them, they refused, saying: “We will not come up; is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, but now you also make yourself a prince to rule over us? Not only have you not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor given us inheritance of fields and vineyards; will you also put out the eyes of these men? We will not come up!” This infuriated Moses, who put them all to the test. There were 250 men, along with Korach, Natan, and Aviram. Moses told each of them to bring their fire pans and offer incense to God. If their offerings were accepted, then God clearly did not choose Moses to lead the People. However, if their offering was not accepted, but the offering of Aaron was, then it would be a sign that God truly chose Moses to lead the People. Of course, God did not accept the offering of Korach and his crowd and showed Moses to be the true leader of Israel. But, never content to just say Moses was the Leader, a powerful display was necessary to discourage any further rebellions. So the Torah tells us:
וַתִּפְתַּח הָאָרֶץ אֶת-פִּיהָ, וַתִּבְלַע אֹתָם וְאֶת-בָּתֵּיהֶם, וְאֵת כָּל-הָאָדָם אֲשֶׁר לְקֹרַח, וְאֵת כָּל-הָרְכוּשׁ
וַיֵּרְדוּ הֵם וְכָל-אֲשֶׁר לָהֶם, חַיִּים--שְׁאֹלָה; וַתְּכַס עֲלֵיהֶם הָאָרֶץ, וַיֹּאבְדוּ מִתּוֹךְ הַקָּהָל
“The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, their households, and all the men that were with Korah, and all their possessions. So they, and all that belonged to them, went down alive into the pit; and the earth closed upon them, and they perished from among the assembly.” (Num. 16:32-33)
When most people read this passage, they read about a biblical miracle that instilled awe into the people and solidified the position of Moses as the Chosen One of God. For me, as someone who lives in Florida, when I read this passage, I think… SINKHOLE!
It should be noted that sinkholes are a natural occurrence. The Cenotes of Mexico are beautiful sinkholes. In central Florida, Devil’s Den, a popular dive site I have visited many times, is also a natural sinkhole. According to the US Geological Survey, “A sinkhole is a depression in the ground that has no natural external surface drainage. This means that when it rains, the water stays inside the sinkhole and typically drains into the subsurface. These are regions where the types of rock below the land surface can naturally be dissolved by groundwater circulating through them. Soluble rocks include salt beds and domes, gypsum, limestone, and other carbonate rock. Florida, for instance, is an area largely underlain by limestone and is highly susceptible to sinkholes. When water from rainfall moves down through the soil, these types of rock begin to dissolve. This creates underground spaces and caverns.”1 Whether this is what happened to Korach and his gang or whether it was from God, I can’t say. What I can say, however, is that a sinkhole is, yet again, another example of the awesome power of water.
What is more common than a natural or Divine sinkhole are those created by human impact on the environment. There is a tendency to pigeonhole water into specific areas such as the Ocean, rivers, lakes, drinking water, etc. One of the areas which often gets overlooked is groundwater. Groundwater is that water that we don’t generally see. Yes, rivers and lakes are groundwater, but much groundwater is in aquafers and rivers under the Earth’s surface. This is where much of the drinking water for the planet is found. There are many reasons for sinkholes caused by human impact. Still, one of the primary reasons is that people remove water faster than the aquifers can be replenished through the Hydrologic Cycle. This leaves a void underground which eventually collapses on itself, creating a sinkhole. In Florida, where much of the ground is comprised of limestone and agriculture plays a major role in the States economy, sinkholes are uncommon. But it’s not just in Florida.
According to the US Bureau of Reclamation, 8% of the water used in the United States goes towards domestic use, 33% is used for agriculture, and 59% is used by industry. Over 600 gallons per day per person in the US are being diverted for farm irrigation and livestock use from natural aquatic sources. Add to this the billions of gallons of water pumped from aquifers and springs every year to be sold in single-use plastic bottles, and we begin to see an incredible amount of water being taken from right under our feet.
Korach led a rebellion against the true and righteous leader of the Jewish People and was swallowed by the Earth. Today, we have allowed ourselves to be led by unrighteous leaders who squander water by allowing corporate entities to drain the aquifers of OUR water for practically no cost and then sell it back to us in plastic bottles. Perhaps it’s time for an uprising against those corporate water thieves. How could such an uprising take place? It’s pretty simple. Stop buying their products. Stop buying water in single-use bottles. Buy a reusable bottle and fill it with the tap. Start buying locally-grown produce, and as I have said so many times before, reduce your meat and fish consumption or stop it all together. This would be a righteous uprising, and such an uprising just might actually keep us from suffering the same fate as Korach.