“Achieving the Good Life by Picking the Right Mate”
(updated and revised from parashat Korach 5761-2001)


by, Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this coming week’s parasha, parashat Korach, we read of Korach’s great rebellion against Moses. Korach, who is a first cousin to Moses and Aaron, and a fellow Levite, accuses Moses and Aaron of usurping authority that does not belong to them, and of 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: וַיִּקַּח קֹרַח…וְדָתָן וַאֲבִירָם בְּנֵי אֱלִיאָב, וְאוֹן בֶּן פֶּלֶת בְּנֵי רְאוּבֵן. Korach, gathered together with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliav, and On the son of Pelet, the descendants of Reuben, and stood before Moses with 250 men of the children of Israel, leaders of the assembly…men of renown.

Confronting Moses and Aaron, they said to them (Numbers 16:3): רַב לָכֶם, כִּי כָל הָעֵדָה כֻּלָּם קְדֹשִׁים וּבְתוֹכָם השׁם, וּמַדּוּעַ תִּתְנַשְּׂאוּ עַל קְהַל השׁם ? It is too much for you (Moses and Aaron)! 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?

Moses tries to reason with Korach, to no avail. He challenges Korach and his supporters to a Divine test, instructing them to bring censors full of קְטוֹרֶת–k’toret, incense, and that tomorrow G-d will show the People of Israel whom He chooses.ooses. Moses tries to forestall the rebellion by approaching Dathan and Abiram for reconciliation, but they refuse even to meet with him. Numbers 16:14, records the response of Dathan and Abiram: הַעֵינֵי הָאֲנָשִׁים הָהֵם תְּנַקֵּר “Do you expect to gouge out the eyes of those men?” There’s nothing to talk about!

Eventually, the earth opens and swallows Korach, Dathan 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 played a destructive role, the other a constructive role. The Midrash maintains that Mrs. Korach egged her husband on, saying to him: “How long are you going to allow your cousin Moses 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 Moses, which leads to the terrible rebellion, and concludes with Korach’s horrifying demise.

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 and trying to persuade On to join the ranks of the disenchanted. After all, said Korach, “You On, are a member of the tribe of Reuben, the first born 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 Moses? Should Moses 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 was concerned that Korach and his cohorts would come to drag him to the rebellion. Mrs. On tells hers husband not to fear; she would handle the matter.

When Mrs. On saw the emissaries of Korach approaching her home 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 her 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 tremble, 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 Moses. 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 Dathan and Abiram.

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

The parasha also warns how the friends one chooses can also determine a person’s fate. Rashi notes on Numbers 16:1 how Dathan and Abiram were pulled in to Korach’s rebellion because they were Korach’s neighbors. The noteworthy words of the Midrash Rabbah bear repetition: אוֹי לָרָשָׁע אוֹי לִשְׁכֵנו–Woe to the wicked and woe to his neighbor.

In the early stages of courting, it’s so difficult to predict the ultimate ideals and the intimate perspectives a potential spouse may have. Try as we may to determine what those intimate values are, it is often impossible to confirm. Even after marriage, husbands and wives, at times, 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 and values will dominate? Sometimes only the negative traits dominate, while at other times the positive values prevail.

Obviously, marriages need סִיַּעְתָּא דִשְׁמַיָּא, much Divine intervention and blessings from Above.

The verse in the Book of Psalms, 34:15 made famous by the Chofetz Chaim is instructive: סוּר מֵרָע וַעֲשֵׂה טוֹב, Turn from evil and do good. Some people lack 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, with favorable results–salvation for them and their progeny.

Clearly, much of life depends on mazal, (good luck and fortune). Nevertheless, people are often in a position to determine and insure their own good fortune. Choose friends and mates carefully. Avoid situations that are going to result in ethical compromise. Have faith in G-d, and always strive to be the best you can be.

May you be blessed.