Torah thought forFriday 27 Sivan 5783 June 16 2023

Parashat Korach (outside Israel Parashat Shelach Lecha)

From HaGaon Rav Zevadia HaCohen Shlit”a, The Head of the Batei Din in Tel Aviv
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)

How Wise Women May be Forces for Good to Influence their Husbands to Avoid Strife and Their Downfall

This Shabbat we shall read about Korach, Datan and Aviram, and On ben Pelet, who stood united with 250 men. They were men of rank in the community, representatives at the assembly, and famous [Bamidbar 16:2], who had a confrontation with Moshe and Aron, claiming, “…All the people in the community are holy!…Why are you setting yourselves above Hashem’s congregation?” (ibid. 16:3). Moshe was shocked and fell on his face [ibid. 16:22]. Datan and Aviram had spoken with arrogance to Moshe. Moshe got up and went to Datan and Aviram’s home together with the elders of Am Yisrael. Moshe announced a dramatic statement, “This shall demonstrate to you that Hashem sent me to do all these deeds and I did not make up anything myself. If these men die like other men, and share the common fate of man, then Hashem did not send me. But if Hashem creates something entirely new, making the earth open its mouth and swallow them and all that is theirs, so that they descend to the depth alive, then it is these men who are provoking Hashem” (ibid. 16:28-30). Then an extremely terrifying this occurred, “Moshe had hardly finished speaking when the ground under [Datan and Aviram] split. The earth opened its mouth, and swallowed them and their houses, along with all the men who were with Korach and their property. They fell into the depths along with all their possessions. The earth then covered them over, and they were lost to the community. [Hearing] their cries, all of Am Yisrael around them screamed that the earth would swallow them up, and they began to run away. Fire then descended from Hashem, and it consumed the 250 men who were presenting the incense” (ibid. 31-35).

We see from here the strict punishment that is met out to for arguments in Am Yisrael. Korach and his community were swallowed alive into the ground. Them, their families, together with their homes and possessions, 250 men who presented the incense were burnt alive.

If we carefully consider that at the beginning of the Parashah On ben Pelet was with them, yet as the Parashah continues he is absent. Only Korach, Datan and Aviram were in the Parashah and received punishments. So it begs the question, where did On ben Pelet go?

The Midrash (Tanchuma, ch. 10) comments on the passuk, “The wise among women each builds her house, but the foolish one tears it down with her hands” (Mishlei 14:1). Rav said, “The wise among women each builds her house” this is On ben Pelet’s wife. Because when he returned from the first meeting with Korach and his community he told her that his was a senior member of the committee for appointing Korach and that it is their plan to demote Aron the Cohen and to appoint Korach, and that soon he is invited to a second meeting. His wife said to him, what has this got to do with you? If Aron will be the cohen then you will be a pupil, and if Korach will be the cohen you will still be a pupil, if so, what is this dispute to do with you? He replied to her, but I promised that I will attend the next meeting.

His wife said to him, just listen to me and I will save you. Immediately she gave him old strong wine to drink until he felt sleepy and then she put him to bed. Afterwards she untied her hair and sat at the entrance of her home. As a result anyone who approached her home to bring him, immediately turned back (for his wife was sat there with her hair uncovered), until eventually they decided to leave him out.

In the meantime, the earth opened up its mouth and they were all swallowed into the ground. But On ben Pelet was saved in his wife’s merit. This teaches us that a person must be cautious with disputes, and a wise person is careful not to engage in strife in anyway. A person shouldn’t say, however wise they may be, I will enter the dispute and I will know how to be careful and how best to exit it at the right time. Such an approach will not withstand the test of time and for sure anyone who engages in arguments and controversy will not escape harm and is certain to get hurt. But a person who is wise with foresight guards themselves not to engage in strife.

It is related about a Russian wagon driver who lived in a small town where he was the only wagon driver. All the journeys or travels that the inhabitants of the townsfolk required were made on his route. This coachman was industrious and worked from morning until evening and everyone was content. After some time, a new young wagon driver arrived at the town and he began journeys and travels, which infringed on the older wagon driver’s business.

The older wagon driver was angry and summoned the new wagon driver accusing him of stealing his livelihood. In his defence, the young wagon driver said that there is ample work in the town and that there is enough business to go round. They sat and argued until they reached an agreement that the older wagon driver will ask the younger one a question appertaining to the laws of wagon drivers. If he knows the answer, he may stay in the town but if he won’t know the answer then he will have to leave. The younger one agreed and immediately was attentive to the question.

The older one turned his face and asked his fellow, “Tell me! What would you do if you had a large family with many suitcases and packages and on a winter day you made a mistake and traversed a muddy path and the horses and wagon wheels got stuck in the mud and wouldn’t budge free, what would you do?” The wagon driver responded, “I would hit them with a stick and until they muster the strength and get out of the mud!” The older one said, “You hit them and it doesn’t work, now what can you do further?” The young one replied, “I would remove the suitcases and the packages and then the wagon will be lighter to get out.” The older one enquired, “You did this and still it doesn’t work, what would you now do?” The younger one immediately retorted, “I would remove all the passengers and I would ask them to push the wagon.” The older one said to him, “You do this and still it doesn’t help, what else would you do?” Embarrassed, the young wagon driver said, “More, I cannot do!” He then agreed to leave the town. But before he did, he asked the older wagon driver, “Honestly, what would you do in such a case?” Immediately the older one replied, “A wise wagon driver doesn’t enter mud!”

Likewise with us, we should learn moral instruction from this story and say, “a wise person doesn’t enter into strife”. But a fool who doesn’t consider this enters into arguments and there is a great doubt if they will succeed in emerging from it. Even if in the end they do escape it, they may be battered and bruised. A wise one may hear and increase [their] learning [Mishlei 1:5]. Amen.

Shabbat Shalom!