Torah portion of the Week: Korach

The Torah, in Numbers 16:1, records the initial steps of the rebellion: וַיִּקַּח קֹרַח בֶּן יִצְהָר בֶּן קְהָת בֶּן לֵוִי, וְדָתָן וַאֲבִירָם בְּנֵי אֱלִיאָב, וְאוֹן בֶּן פֶּלֶת בְּנֵי רְאוּבֵן Korach, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohat, the son of Levi, separated himself with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and Ohn, son of Peleth, the offspring of Reuben.

Together with 250 men from the Children of Israel who were leaders of the assembly and men of renown, they gathered against Moses and Aaron and rebelled, saying: “All the people of Israel are holy, why do you [Moses and Aaron] exalt yourselves over the Congregation of God?”

The rebellion ends when the earth opens and swallows Korach and all his belongings The 250 men who had offered the forbidden incense, also met an untimely end when a heavenly fire consumed them.

When the punishment of Korach and his followers is recorded in scripture, there is no mention of Ohn the son of Peleth, who had been part of the initial rebellion.

The Talmud, in Sanhedrin 109b, reports that Ohn did not die when the earth opened up, nor was he consumed by the heavenly fire. In fact, according to the Midrash, he survived because of his wise wife’s intervention.

Although Ohn had agreed to join with Korach in his rebellion, his wife convinced him that it was a no-win situation for him. Trying to prevent Korach from mixing in to a dispute that should not be his concern, Ohn’s wife argues, that Ohn has nothing to gain: “If Moses wins, you will be subservient to him, and if Korach wins, you will be subservient to him.”

Although Ohn had already given his word to Korach, his wife assured him that she would save him. First, she gave him wine to drink, and he fell asleep. Then, she immodestly uncovered her hair and stood at the opening to their tent. The messengers who came to fetch Ohn to join rebellion left because of Mrs. Ohn’s immodesty. When Ohn finally awoke, the rebellion was long over and Korach and his followers were dead.

It is really not clear whether Mrs. Ohn’s arguments ultimately prevailed, because she eventually resorted to an alternative strategy, putting Ohn to sleep. However, Mrs. Ohn’s ability to think clearly and rationally at a time when most people were swept away by the intensity of emotion, is rather remarkable.

We all need to be able to stop, from time to time, to take long hard looks at the larger picture to see where we fit in, and to recognize how insignificant we each are in relation to the broad scheme of things. Yet, by grouping together with other good people, we can together make a huge difference. We can train and prepare ourselves for those intense and unexpected moments, so we will be equipped to make the proper decisions for life and death, for good and evil. Shabbat Shalom!