“Achieving The Good Life by Picking The Right Mate”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this coming week’s parasha, parashat Korach, we read of Korach’s great rebellion against Moshe. Korach, who is Moshe and Aharon’s first cousin, and a fellow Levite, accuses Moshe and Aharon of usurping authority that does not belong to them and not sharing the power of leadership with other members of the People of Israel.

In Numbers 16:1, the Torah records the start of the rebellion: “Va’yikach Korach…. v’Dah’tan va’Avi’ram b’nei Eliav, v’On ben Pelet, b’nei Reuven.” Korach, together with Dahtan and Abiram, the sons of Eliav and On the son of Pelet, the descendants of Reuven stood before Moshe with 250 men of the children of Israel, leaders of the assembly…men of renown. Gathering together against Moshe and Aharon, they said to them (Numbers 16:3): “Rav lah’chem, kee kol ha’ay’dah kul’am k’doshim, u’vtocham Hashem, u’madua tit’nas’uh al k’hal Hashem?” It is too much for you (Moshe and Aharon)! After all, the entire assembly is holy, and G-d is among them. So, why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of G-d?

Moshe tries to argue with Korach, but to no avail. He tells Korach and his supporters to bring censers full of k’toret, incense, and that tomorrow G-d will show the People of Israel whom he chooses. Moshe tries to forestall the rebellion by approaching Datan and Abiram for reconciliation, but they refuse even to meet with him. In Numbers 16:14, Datan and Abiram respond: “Ha’ay’nai ha’a’nashim ha’heim t’nah’kair?” Do you expect to gouge out the eyes of those men? There’s nothing to talk about!

Eventually, the earth opens and swallows Korach, Datan and Abiram, and fire comes out of heaven and devours the 250 men who brought the improper incense offering.

When reviewing the narrative concerning the deaths of Korach and his cohorts, the rabbis ask, “What happened to On, the son of Pelet? Why is his name not mentioned among the rebellious victims who were killed? The rabbis of the Midrash point out that two women played key roles in the rebellion of Korach — one a destructive role, the other a constructive role. The Midrash maintains that Mrs. Korach egged on her husband, saying to him: How long are you going to allow your cousin Moshe to ridicule you and remain silent? He’s consolidating all the power and wealth for himself, and you’re a nothing! After hearing her laments over and over, Korach resolves to do something. He eventually confronts Moshe, which leads to the terrible rebellion and concludes with Korach’s horrifying death.

To balance this not very “politically correct” description of Mrs. Korach, the rabbis maintain that On the son of Pelet is saved by his wife. Apparently, Mrs. On had overheard Korach cajoling her husband into rebelling, trying to persuade him to join the ranks of the disenchanted. After all, said Korach, you On, are a member of the tribe of Reuven, the firstborn of Jacob. You are entitled to power and glory as well. According to the Midrash, when Mrs. On hears this, she tells her husband: “On darling, what will you gain from this rebellion against Moshe? Should Moshe emerge victorious, you’ll still be a nothing. If Korach emerges victorious you’ll be subservient to Korach. You’re in a Catch 22. Stay out of it!”

On eventually agrees with his wife, but he was concerned that Korach and his cohorts would come to drag him to the rebellion. Mrs. On tells her husband not to fear; she would handle the matter.

When Mrs. On saw the emissaries of Korach approaching her home in order to collect her husband, she quickly gave On some wine to drink, and he fell asleep. Mrs. On positioned herself at the door of the tent, her hair immodestly uncovered, coiffing herself in public. When Korach and his assembly saw Mrs. On in this immodest state, they turned away, leaving On alone.

According to a further Midrashic tradition, when the earth opened to swallow Korach’s cohorts, the bed on which On slept began to rock, and the earth began to open to swallow On. On’s wife pleaded with G-d saying, “O Lord of the Universe, my husband made a solemn vow to never again take part in dissensions. You who lives and endures for all eternity can punish him hereafter if ever he proves false to his vow.” G-d heeds her plea, and On is saved. Eventually, On receives personal forgiveness from Moshe. From then on the Midrash tells us that On is called “On the Penitent, the son of Pelet” which means miracle. An interesting tradition has it that On was actually the brother of Datan and Abiram.

It’s fascinating how the Torah underscores that a person’s fate is often determined by the mate he or she chooses.

At the beginning of the courting period, it’s so difficult to predict the ultimate ideals and the intimate perspectives a mate may have. Try as we may to determine what those intimate values are, it is often impossible to confirm. At times, husbands and wives find themselves pulling in different directions. One may be more spiritual, while the other more material. One may be more cerebral, while the other more athletic. One may be more outgoing, the other more shy. But it is inevitable that after years of living together, husbands and wives influence one another. The ultimate question is, which of the traits will dominate? Sometimes only the negative traits dominate, while at other times the good traits dominates. Obviously, marriages need “Siyata Dishmaya,” much Divine intervention and blessings from Above.

Verse 34:15 in the Book of Psalms, made famous by the Chafetz Chaim, is instructive: “Sur may’rah va’a’say tov,” turn from evil and do good. Some people don’t have the strength or the fortitude to confront evil. Perhaps that’s what happened to On the son of Pelet and his wife. Instead, they chose subterfuge merely to avoid evil and with favorable results–salvation for them and their progeny.

So, while much of life depends on mazal (luck and good fortune), it is not unusual that, quite often, we ourselves are in a position to determine and insure our own good fortune. Choose friends and mates carefully. Avoid situations that are going to result in compromise. Have faith in G-d, and always do the best that you can.

May you be blessed.