“The entire congregation is holy” Numbers 16:3


With a quick reading of the sidrah, one can miss the real hero of the story — the wife of On ben Pelet. On ben Pelet starts off following Korach in his rebellion against Moses and Aaron but later disappears from the scene.

The Midrash elaborates that whereas Korach’s wife had fired her husband up against Moses, On’s wife saved hers. She implored him, “Why do you want [to be part of] this argument? If Aaron is the High Priest, you will be his pupil; if Korach is the High Priest, you will be his pupil.” She continued, “The entire congregation is holy”.

She then gave him wine to drink and put him to sleep in bed; she and her daughter sat at the entrance of the tent and she revealed her hair. As a result, anyone who came to visit her husband was forced to turn back. In the meantime, Korach and his followers were swallowed up by the earth. According to the Midrash, this is the meaning of the verse (Proverbs 14:1), “The wisdom of women builds her house” — this is the wife of On — “but folly plucks it down with her hands” — this is the wife of Korach.

Rabbenu Yona of Gerona (died 1263) explains that one of the objectives of giving tzedakah is to acquire a sense of benevolence within oneself. I would add that benevolence of spirit is also important and just as giving away funds is important, so too is welcoming the success of others. The German word schadenfreude means to laugh at the misfortune at others; indeed it is much harder to rejoice at the good fortune of others (there is no single word in German to encapsulate the latter).

Perhaps Korach and his followers lacked this benevolent spirit and so sought to overthrow Moses and Aaron. On’s wife, however, was happy for him to remain a small player and for Moses and Aaron to continue in their successful roles.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive