The Invisible Women of Parshat Korach

Parshat Korach begins with the story of Korach’s rebellion (Bamidbar 16:1-3): “Korach, son of Yitzhar, son of Kehat, son of  Levi separated himself, with Datan and Aviram, sons of Eliav and On the son of Pelet, the offspring of Reuven. They stood before Moshe with 250 men from B’nai Yisrael, leaders of the assembly, those summoned for meeting, men of renown. They gathered together against Moshe and Aharon and said to them, “It is too much for you! For the entire assembly-all of them- are holy and God is among them; why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of God?”


The only time that we hear about the families of the rebels is in Bamidbar 16:27: “And Datan and Aviram went out and stood at the door of their tents with their wives, their children and their infants.”


The Talmud, Sanhedrin 109b-110a chooses to focus on the wives who are not mentioned at all, On, the son of Pelets’s wife and Korach’s wife, to try to fill in what may have gone on behind the scenes.


On, the son of Pelet ceases to be part of the rebellion. Why did he drop out?


The Talmud explains that On’s wife saved him. She said to him: “Why are you joining Korach’s rebellion? What will you gain from it? If Moshe is victorious, you will be a disciple and if Korach is victorious, you will be a disciple! Why then would you join Korach against Moshe?”


On answered: “You are correct. But what shall I do? I took part in their deliberations and swore to them that I would join the rebellion when called.”


She said to her husband: “I know the entire assembly, Korach and his followers included are holy people as it says ‘for the entire assembly-all of them-are holy.’ Turn back from this dangerous course and I will save you!” She gave him wine and when he was drunk she put him to bed inside their tent. She then sat at the entrance of the tent with her hair uncovered. Every member of Korach’s group who came to summon On saw her sitting at the entrance with her hair uncovered and left as they weren’t comfortable seeing an immodest woman. While On was sleeping off his intoxication, Korach’s assembly were swallowed up by the earth.


We see from here that On’s wife’s prevented him from joining Korach’s rebellion and suffering the conspirator’s horrible fate.


In contrast, the Talmud explains that Korach’s wife incited her husband to rebel against Moshe.


Korach’s wife said to him: “See what Moshe is doing! He has arrogated power and wealth for himself and his immediate family. He himself is king, he appointed his brother Aharon as Kohen Gadol (High Priest) and he appointed his brother’s sons deputies of the High Priest…”


The Talmud concludes with a quote from Proverbs 13:1: “She who is wise among women builds her house”, that is a reference to the wife of On the son of Pelet, “But the foolish one destroys it with her own hands”, this is a reference to the wife of Korach.