July 13, 2024
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וַיִּקָּהֲלוּ עַל־מֹשֶׁה וְעַל־אַהֲרֹן וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֲלֵהֶם רַב־לָכֶם כִּי כָל־הָעֵדָה כֻּלָּם קְדֹשִׁים וּבְתוֹכָם ה’ וּמַדּוּעַ תִּתְנַשְּׂאוּ עַל־קְהַל ה’: (במדבר טז:ג)

They assembled against Moshe and Aharon, and said to them, “You take too much upon yourselves, for the entire congregation are all holy, and Hashem is in their midst. So, why do you raise yourselves in Hashem’s assembly?”

It is written in Maseches Sanhedrin (109b-110a): “Rav said: ‘The wife of Ohn ben Peles saved him. She said to him: ‘What is the difference to you? If this teacher, Moshe, is the leader, you are the student. And if this teacher, Korach, is the leader, you are the student. Why are you getting involved in this matter?’”

“Ohn said to her: ‘What shall I do? I was one of those with whom he took counsel and I took an oath that I would be with them. She said to him: I know that the entire assembly is holy, as it is written: “Kahl ha’aidah koolum kedoshim—For the whole assembly is holy,” (Bamidbar 16:3).” “She said to him: ‘Sit back and I will save you.’”

What did she do? She gave him wine to drink, caused him to become drunk and she then laid him down on a bed inside the tent. She then sat at the entrance of the tent and exposed her hair. Anyone who came and saw her stepped back.

In the meantime, the assembly of Korach was swallowed into the ground, and Ohn ben Peles was spared … This is the meaning of the pasuk: “Chachmos nashim bonnsah baisah—The wisdom of women build her house,” (Mishlei 14:1). This is referring to the wife of Ohn ben Peles.

The mefarshim ask: Why did Ohn ben Peles’s wife mention, “Kahl ha’aidah koolum kedoshim—I know that the entire assembly is holy?” How is the fact that “everyone is holy” meant to convince her husband not to get involved in the argument between Moshe and Korach?

Rashi explains that Ohn’s wife told him that there is no reason for him to get involved in the fight, since he has nothing to gain. She was concerned, however, that her husband was afraid that Korach would send messengers to convince him to go, or to take him by force. In order to remove this fear, she told him that she would sit by the door of their tent and no one would enter the tent. (Zera Shimshon gives an explanation how she was so sure that her uncovered hair would deter people from coming into their tent.)

Maharsha gives another explanation: that after Ohn’s wife told Ohn that he has nothing to gain, he replied that he cannot withdraw himself from the quarrel because he swore that he will come. This means—explains Maharsha—that Ohn felt that since he was part of the original plan, maybe, one day, he would become the leader and had what to gain. Ohn’s wife, therefore, counter argued by saying “the whole assembly is holy,” and, therefore, he was foolish to think that if there would be some type of re-elections, he would be chosen to be the head. Why does he feel that he has a better chance than anyone else, since they are all special?

Zera Shimshon asks with regards to this explanation, that according to this, “the whole assembly is holy” isn’t adding anything since this was her argument in the beginning when she said, “If this teacher, Moshe, is the leader, you are the student. And if this teacher, Korach, is the leader, you are the student!”

Zera Shimshon, therefore, offers a different explanation based on an excerpt of the Yalkut Reuveni (Parshas Korach).

It is written in the parsha when Moshe found out about Korach’s rebellion, he fell on his face and davened to Hashem. Immediately after that, he called Korach and his followers and told them that the next day, they will perform a test to see who Hashem really chose to be the Kohanim. The test was that Aharon, Korach and each one of his followers should bring a pan filled with ketores and offer it to Hashem. The one from whom Hashem accepts the offering will be the one whom Hashem chose; and the others? Well, a non-Kohen who offers ketores is liable to death at the hands of Heaven, so the one whom Hashem does not choose will perish.

Hashem was the One who told Moshe to do this test and, therefore, Yalkut Reuveini assumes that Moshe was also told the outcome. Why, then, did he attempt to make peace with Korach’s followers? It would seem that he was being dishonest; leading them to believe that they had a chance to live when he knew what was going to happen!

Yalkut Reuveini answers that Moshe only knew that Korach would perish by fire. He thought that the rest of the followers still had the ability to do teshuva and not be punished. Therefore, Moshe was not deceitful at all and he did not give them false hope. He thought that they could do teshuva and be saved. In the end, they chose not to do teshuva and they all perished, but at the time that Moshe told them of the test they still had the option to save themselves.

According to this—explains Zera Shimshon—Ohn’s wife mentioned that “everyone was holy” to refute Ohn’s argument that he was stuck, and that he had no choice but to go along with Korach. Ohn argued that since he was one of the heads of the uprising, even if he doesn’t go with them he will be punished with them, as we find that Bilam was put to death because he gave the idea to Pharaoh to kill the Jewish boys in the sea. Therefore, since he was part of the scheme, he, for sure, will also die.

Ohn’s wife counter-argued—like the Gemara above described her—with great chachmoh like a real lamdan, that “the whole assembly is holy.” Meaning, she understood that since Moshe went to appease all of Korach’s followers to save themselves, it must be that they still are capable of doing teshuva to save themselves and their perishing is not a “done deal.” She, therefore, told him that also concerning him this option of doing teshuva is also open and he, therefore, shouldn’t feel that he is stuck and doomed to die, but, rather, he should do teshuva—not go with them and save himself.

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