Parshat Korach: A Wise Wife

  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times


The Midrash tells us that women also played an important role in Korach’s revolt.

“A wise wife builds her house, but a foolish one destroys it with her own hands,” Shlomo HaMelech tells us in Mishlei (14:1).

One wise woman who thus built her house was the wife of On, son of Peless, of the tribe of Reuven who is named at the very beginning of the parshah as being among the leaders of the rebellion against Moshe.

In contrast, the foolish woman here who destroyed her home with her own hands was Korach’s wife. Instead of confronting her husband with the truth, she egged him on to rebel.

One episode took place when G-d instructed Moshe to consecrate the tribe of Levi to serve in the Mishkan. In the process, the men were required to shave off all the hair on their body.

Let’s try to imagine what happened when Korach returned home with his hair freshly shaven, with no beard.

Upon seeing him, his wife cries: “Just look at you! A laughingstock! Moshe does what he wants with you!”

“But Moshe also cut his hair and shaved,” Korach replies.

“That was just so that you would all cut your hair. What else went on?” she asks suspiciously.

“They dressed Aharon up like a bride and decorated him with a breastplate full of precious stones,” says Korach. Now his voice carries a touch of scorn.

His wife continues to rant: “Just look at what Moshe is doing! First, he makes himself the king. Then he makes his brother the high priest. Next, his nephews become his deputies, and he even orders everyone to give them Terumah!”

All this could not but affect Korach. In fact, he died—in this world and the next—due to the constant incitement of his wife.

But the wise woman, the wife of On, son of Peless, saved her husband’s life.

When she learned that he planned to join Korach’s rebellion, she began to dissuade him: “Why would you get involved in someone else’s dispute? If Aharon or Korach becomes the main leader, you will just remain another one of their followers. What practical difference will it make to us?”

“You’re right, but I gave my word. We have vowed to fight together,” On answered.

His wife did not argue. She suggested that while Moshe was trying to negotiate with Dasan and Aviram, he should go lie down to rest. She also gave him some wine.

Then, she washed her hair and sat by the doorway of their tent with her hair open to the air. Korach’s men were then making the rounds to call their accomplices to the uprising.

They knocked on the door and called out: “On ben Peles!”

But On was fast asleep. No one answered their knock. They opened the flap themselves, but when they spied a woman with hair uncovered, they turned and fled.

On’s wife didn’t enter any philosophical discussions with him. The only words the Midrash quotes her having said are, “What’s in it for you?”

Did she speak of justice? Freedom? Human rights? Equality? Not at all. This woman, whom the Midrash declares acted with wisdom, urged her husband to proceed solely based on personal interests. Then she proceeded to simply remove him from the scene of action.

What are we to think? Is she really an unprincipled, self-interested woman?

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, of righteous memory (1928-2022), writes in his book entitled Birkas Peretz, that the leaders of the rebellion understood perfectly what the matter boiled down to: A thirst for personal power.

How do we know? If Korach had been sincerely convinced that he had a right to the high priesthood, why did he hide his goals from his supporters?

He failed to divulge his personal agenda because, had he showed people his cards, why would they trouble themselves to join him?

Yet, in their hearts, the collaborators understood him. True, there are noble-sounding slogans, but there is also that inner feeling that senses what the driving force is here.

So, in essence, On’s wife said to him: “You yourself understand that the matter is not straightforward; Korach is simply claiming that he should be the High Priest. This is no good. And, in any case, you won’t gain anything through it.”

Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz, Rosh Yeshivah of the Mirrer Yeshivah of Jerusalem (1902-1979), once said: In order to find the right path, one must face the truth and look at things directly and simply. And that is what On’s wife did here.

We might ask, “Why didn’t she persuade her husband to totally withdraw from the controversy, instead of slyly removing him from the playing field?”

Quite likely, there was no time to spare. And perhaps she was afraid that none of her arguments would succeed.

And so, it happened that Korach and his accomplices died, and one of his main associates, On ben Peles survived, thanks to his wife and spent the rest of his life in repentance for what he had done.

 By Rav Yitzchok Zilber ztk"l
Founder, Toldot Yeshurun