Parashat Korach – Erev Shabbat 11 June 2021
Week of 6-12 June 2021
Torah portion: Numbers 16:1-18:32 Haftarah: 1 Samuel 11:14- 12:22
Theme: “She opens her mouth with wisdom.” (Prov. 31:26)
For readers of this story of rebellion, what sticks in our minds is the terrible image conjured up by these words: “…the ground under them burst asunder, and the earth opened up and swallowed them up with their households, all Korah’s people….they went down alive into Sheol….the earth closed over them and they vanished from the midst of the congregation….all Israel around them fled at their shrieks…” [Num 16:32-34] The words ‘women and children’ are not used but we do not need them to know that they were included in this terrible fate. They suffered the horrifying consequence of decisions they did not make and actions they did not take part in.
According to legend, however, two women did play a role in events. (Ginzberg, 440-446; Kadari] One is the wife of Korah, who persuaded him to rebel against Moses and Aaron. The other is the wife of On son of Peleth, who prevented him from taking part in the revolt and thereby saved his life. The Rabbis applied the first part of Proverbs 14:1 – “The wisest of women builds her house” to the wife of On – and the second part to the wife of Korah – “but folly tears it down with its own hands.”
On, son of Peleth, is named with Korah, Dathan, and Abiram as among those who decided to rebel against Moses. (Num 16:1). Yet his name never appears again, which may be what gave rise to the story of how his wife kept him safe. First, she convinced him that there was no point in rebelling as all it would accomplish was the change of one master for another – Korah for Moses. Then she plied him with drink so that he fell asleep in their tent. Next, she sat down outside the tent, with her hair uncovered and loose about her shoulders, as if she were planning to wash it. When men came looking for On and saw his wife in such an immodest state, they turned around at once and went away. On did not wake up until after the conspirators and their families had died by fire or in the earthquake.
In contrast, the wife of Korah persuaded her husband, who was already nursing grievances against Moses, that he must overthrow Moses. Like a lawyer for the prosecution, she claimed that Moses promoted and enriched his relatives and did not care about anybody else; he treated the Levites like dirt; and he made up laws, like dying the tzizit blue, and then tried to pass them off as ordained by the lord. And so the rebellion began and carried on to its terrible ending.
Reflection and Discussion: The wife of On wanted to keep him safe so she persuaded him not to join the rebels. The wife of Korah wanted him to gain riches and power so she persuaded him to rebel. With these examples in mind, think over your own experiences of giving and receiving advice.
Bibliography: Ginzberg, Louis, Legends of the Bible, Philadelphia PA, 1956, pp.440-446; Kadari, Tamar, “Wife of On Ben Pelet: Midrash and Aggadah” and “Wife of Korah: Midrash and Aggadah” in Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. Jewish Women’s Archive, 2009. Viewed on 23 May 2021 at https://jwa.org/encyclopedia.
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Anne Morton, Canada, Bat Kol Alumna: 2010