Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues
Torah Attitude: Parashas Korach: A tale of two wives
Korach organized a revolt against Moses and Aaron. No mention is made of “On”. On was saved by his wife. Korach’s wife fanned the flames of revolt. On’s wife built her house with her wisdom. Korach’s wife destroyed her house with her foolishness. A woman has the ability to build up her husband or to destroy him. If a man is worthy, his wife will help him to fulfill his potential; however, if a man is unworthy, his wife will fight against him. Everything depends on the woman. Deborah, a great prophet and judge, still referred to herself as a “mother”.
In this week’s Torah reading, Korach, Dathan, Abiram, and On, together with 250 leaders of the Jewish people revolt against Moses and Aaron. They complain and say, “It’s too much [you take] for yourself! All the Jewish people are holy and G’d is among them. Why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of G’d?” (Bamidbar 16:3).
The missing On
However, when Moses responds to the demands of the rebels, everyone is referred to except On. No further mention is made of him. Why is On’s name missing?
The Talmud relates (Sanhedrin 109b), “Rav said: On was saved by his wife. She said to him, ‘What does it matter to you whether Moses remains your master or Korach becomes your master? Either way, you remain a disciple.’ On replied, ‘But what can I do? I have sworn to help Korach.’ She said, ‘I know that the whole community [including the rebels] is holy. Sit here and I will save you.’ She gave him wine to drink, intoxicated him, and laid him down to sleep inside the tent. Then she sat at the entrance of the tent and uncovered her hair. Whoever came to summon On saw his wife sitting with her hair uncovered and retreated.”
The Talmud (Sanhedrin 110a) continues to relate how Korach’s wife fanned the flames of revolt and encouraged him and the other rebels to dethrone Moses. She said to Korach, “See what Moses has done. He has become king; his brother Aaron he appointed High Priest. If Terumah is brought, Moses decrees let it be for the Priest; if tithes are brought to the Levites, one tenth goes to the priests. Moreover, he had your hair cut off, and made sport of you as if you were dirt, for he was jealous of your hair”.
The wise and foolish women
The Talmud concludes that this is a classic example of the wise woman, exemplified by On’s wife, and the foolish one, exemplified by Korach’s wife. As King Solomon said, “Every wise woman builds her house. But the foolish one tears it down with her own hands” (Mishleh 14:1). In the end, On was saved and lived; whereas, the Torah records that Korach and all the other rebels were either burned alive when bringing their offerings or swallowed into the pit of the earth when the ground beneath them opened up. On’s wife built her house with her wisdom. Korach’s wife destroyed hers with her foolishness.
The power of women
It is all too easy to underestimate the power of women. On the whole, men have a need to express their power to be recognized and respected by others. Women, on the other hand, with their common sense, are brains behind many great men. If Korach’s wife had used her power wisely as On’s wife, he would not have rebelled against Moses. The real power player was not Korach but his wife. A woman has the ability to build up her husband or to destroy him.
Our Sages (Niddah 45b) teach us that G’d gave extra insight to women more than to men. The Torah (Bereishis 2:18) declares that it is not good for man to be alone; therefore G’d made a helpmate to be “against” him. The Talmud (Yevamot 63a) explains that if a man is worthy, his wife will help him to fulfill his potential; however, if a man is unworthy, his wife will fight against him. This can be understood to mean that if the husband is about to undertake a worthy cause his wife shall boost him and encourage him to fulfill his undertaking. However, if she sees he is making a mistake and is about to do something unworthy, it is her obligation to stand up against him and discourage his undertaking. On’s wife had common sense. She showed her husband that he had nothing to gain and everything to lose by joining the rebellion. And then she devised a clever way to keep the other rebels away from her husband. Korach’s wife was foolish. She filled the minds of her husband and the other rebels with envy and jealousy. Her foolishness destroyed the lives of her husband and hundreds of others.
Everything depends on the woman
The Midrash Rabbah (Bereishis 17:12) relates a story about two righteous people who were married to each other. For some reason, they did not have the merit to parent children. They decided that they could not fulfill their potential and serve G’d unless they both had children. So they divorced and married other spouses. Unfortunately, they both married evil spouses. The Midrash relates that the righteous man soon turned evil, but the righteous woman turned her new evil husband into a righteous man. The Midrash concludes: “everything depends on the woman”. She is the foundation of the home. She sets the tone and has an extremely strong influence on all members of the family. The husband, children, and anyone else who enter the home are caught by the atmosphere created by the woman. By nature, men are more involved in the external world around them. Men bring home ideas that they picked up in the market place. Women are in charge of the house. They control what is expected and tolerated within the four walls. Men seek wisdom from outside sources. Women were given a gift from G’d to generate wisdom without the need to venture beyond their families.
G’d blessed Jewish women with special insight. One of the greatest Jewish women of all time, Deborah, was a prophet and a judge, but she still referred to herself as a “mother” (Judges 5:7). Jewish women have the power to direct their husbands and their families. This power can be used to build and maintain the Jewish people like On’s wife, or to destroy or cripple them, like Korach’s wife. May the Jewish women restore the greatness of Israel. Just as the Jews in Egypt went out in the merit of the righteous women of that generation (Sotah 11b), may we soon be taken out of our exile in the merit of the righteous women of our times.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network