Parshas Korach – The Woman Behind the Man

By Avner Friedmann

As we know, Moshe’s cousin Korach was an important Levite. He had it all; incredible wealth, intellectual brilliance and righteousness. However, he was resentful of the fact that he was passed over for the leadership of the Kehat clan and the appointment of his cousin Aharon as the High Priest. This envy led him to challenge Moshe Rabbeinu’s and Aharon HaKohen’s leadership. From here it was a short step to denying the Torah laws as taught by Moshe and the distinctions between Kohanim, Levites and Israelites.

Thus he instigated a dispute out of envy rather than for the sake of Heaven.  Korach managed to round up 250 of the most prominent leaders of Israel in an outright rebellion to overthrow Moshe. However, through challenging Moshe, he in fact was challenging HaShem Himself, Heaven forbid, along with undermining the entire foundation of Judaism. Ultimately, all those who persisted in the rebellion either died by spontaneous human combustion or were swallowed alive by the earth.

The parsha tells us that one of Korach’s followers was a Reuvenite by the name of Onn ben Pelet. He joined the rebellion, but in the nick of time he was saved because of his wife. She convinced him to drop out of it.

On the other hand, it was Korach’s wife who enticed her husband against Moshe and Aharon. It was she who incited Korach against Moshe by convincing him that Moshe was consolidating all the power between him and his immediate family, whereas Korach was being treated disgracefully by being denied the honor due him[1]. Thus she influenced her husband to lead a rebellion that culminated with his death, the death of his followers and the death of 14,700 Jews who died in the ensuing plague.

On the other hand, in her wisdom, Onn’s wife[2] realized that her husband was pursuing a false path and was determined to prevent him from falling into Korach’s plot. She said to him, “What do you stand to gain by joining the rebellion? If Moshe prevails and Aharon continues as High Priest, you will be a disciple. If, on the other hand, Korach prevails, you still will only be a disciple.” This convinced Onn, but he was worried over the oath he had made to Korach and his group, in pledging himself to their cause.

Being a wise woman, she devised a clever scheme of how to save her husband[3]. She imbibed Onn with wine until he fell into a drunken stupor and took him to his bed. Knowing Korach and his followers to be modest men, she uncovered her hair, let it down, and sat near the entrance of her tent.  She calculated that since Onn was drunk and physically incapable of responding to a summons to revolt, he would be exonerated of his oath and free from participation. And so it was. Every time one of Korach’s men came to summons Onn, as soon as he saw Onn’s bareheaded wife, he turned around and left. When Onn finally woke up, the rebellion was history. The earth had already opened up and swallowed Korach and his followers.

About this, Scripture states[4]: “The wise amongst women, each builds her house, but the foolish one tears it down with both her hands.” A wise woman builds and maintains the peace and welfare of her household. Thus she keeps her family intact – this refers to the wife of Onn. But the counsel of a foolish woman destroys her home – this refers to the wife of Korach[5]. Through her wisdom a wise woman understands what is destructive to her home and avoids it. By her wisdom she assists her husband in achieving his goals and finding perfection.

[1] Tanchuma, Korach 3.

[2] Korach, chapter 10.

[3] Sanhedrin 110a.

[4] Proverbs 14:1.

[5]  Rashi, Sanhedrin 110a, Tanchuma Korach chapter 10. Rabah, Bamidbar 18, Piska 20.

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