In this week’s Parsha, Korach and his horde argue for more power, are exposed as selfish and evil, and are subsequently punished (16:1-35). The very next day, the Jewish people complain about the recent deaths, G-d asks Moshe and Aaron to step aside as He kills everyone, and sends a plague to complete His will (17:10). Instead of moving away, not only do Moshe and Aaron stay and fall on their faces in prayer, but Moshe then sends Aaron to stand amid the plague with incense to stop the epidemic, which works. Although there are many anomalies in this story, the most striking is how Moshe and Aaron were able to disobey a direct order from G-d to move away, and how Aaron has the power to stop a plague with incense that just a day earlier caused the death of Korach and his 250 followers.
Rabbi David Fohrman points out that when G-d tells Moshe and Aaron to stand aside, it wasn’t a command so much as a prerequisite: If Moshe and Aaron step aside, G-d will destroy the people and start over. If they don’t step away, then it can’t happen. In fact, it was so clear to them that it was their choice that when Moshe saw that the plague had begun to kill people, he sent Aaron to stop it with the very incense that was used to validate Moshe’s righteousness the day before.
The message in this narrative is that we do have the power to effect change, despite what seems to be overwhelming odds. Prayer is a way to manifest what we value and cherish, just as Moshe and Aaron conveyed their continued faith in the Jewish people through their own prayers and actions. Our prayers and actions express our convictions and can effect change in the world.