ABSTRACT: Wealth in the World of the Sages: Why were Korah and Moses Rich People?

Israel: Wealth and Poverty in Jewish Tradition, West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University Press, 2015, pp. 1-12.  Meir Bar-Ilan


The aim of this paper is to analyze the Sages' thoughts concerning wealthy individuals by drawing attention to two different people who have no particular connection with money in the biblical text but in the Sages' Aggadah became wealthy people. These two are Korah and Moses, and the question arises: what made the Sages point out that these two were rich?

It will be demonstrated that the legends concerning the wealth of these two are not mere traditions, but rather creative commentary that employs contemporary ideas as if they reflected the biblical text. In this way, Korah is characterized as a wealthy person when he came to symbolize a heretic Jew, or someone who did not want to obey the Sages. Describing Korah as a wealthy person was a way of demonstrating that those who did not obey the Rabbis were both heretic and rich, in accordance with Korah, the first who rebelled against the Rabbis’ rule, the rule of Moshe Rabeinu.

In different circumstances, there were Darshanim who claimed that Moses himself was a rich man, and those who saw his richness as having been taken 'from the Jews'. It will be demonstrated that this idea does not reflect the biblical Moses, but rather a concealed polemic against R. Judah the Patriarch, who was portrayed with many similarities to Moses.

In all, the sages attributed wealth to biblical figures in order to explain contemporary unethical behavior; money corrupts.