The Torah Text
Korach, Datan and Aviram initiate a rebellion against the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Datan and Aviram’s camp is punished by a miraculous opening of the earth, through which they fall to their deaths.
Ibn Ezra’s Teaching
ופצתה האדמה את פיה. כמו ופתחה וכן יפצה פיהו וכבר רמזתי בעבור היות נשמת האדם העליונה תיכונה תדבר על הגבוהים ממנה כדרך ארמונה שהוא הגוף וכן על השפלים ממנה והטעם להבין השומעים
Numbers 16:30 AND THE GROUND OPEN HER MOUTH. The word u-fatzetah means and opened. Compare, yiftzeh (opens) in opens his mouth (Judges 35:16).
I have already hinted that a human’s highest soul, which comes from the intermediary world, employs human language when speaking of things above her, for the body is its palace. It similarly employs human language when speaking of things below her. It does so in order that people understand her. (Translation adapted from Strickman and Silver)
Reflections for the Path
The text is anthropomorphic – as if the ground were a person. Ibn Ezra’s beautiful way of describing this literary technique is to recognize that the human soul recognizes human language, and so uses it when describing things in the divine or spiritual realm (above, or more-than-human) as well as in the animal and earthy realm (below, or less-than-human).
Although he may be trying to clarify that metaphor is natural for humans, the end result of this soul language is a vibrantly animate world, both spiritual and earthly.
For more on Abraham ibn Ezra:
1. Read my introduction.
2. Listen to ibn Ezra’s opening prayer poem for his Torah commentary.
3. Explore the five paths, ibn Ezra’s introduction to his Torah commentary.