Parshat Korach: Better not to get involved

This week, we read of an “escalation” in the complicated relationship between the nation and its leader, Moshe.

June 6, 2013 20:51
4 minute read.
Soccut prayers at the Western Wall.

Soccut Western Wall 370. (photo credit: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)

Over the past few weeks, we have been reading in the Torah portions over and over again about Am Yisrael’s complaints as it walks through the desert on its way from Egypt toward the Promised Land, Eretz Yisrael. This week, we read of an “escalation” in the complicated relationship between the nation and its leader, Moshe.

Actually, this is not just a simple escalation; it is an open rebellion led by important people in the nation and aimed directly at Moshe and his brother, Aharon the Priest. The rebellion ended in a clear-cut decision in favor of Moshe, when the earth opened up suddenly and “swallowed” the leaders of the rebellion.

At the beginning of the story, the Torah mentions the names of the rebellion leaders: Korach, son of Yitzhar,...and Datan and Aviram, sons of Eliav, and On, son of Pelet. (Numbers 16, 1) As the story continues, the Torah repeats the names of the leaders of the failed rebellion, but here we discover a discrepancy between the lists of names. By reading carefully, one can see that in the name repetition, Korach, Datan and Aviram appear, but On, son of Pelet, is missing.

Where did On ben Pelet go? What happened that caused him to quit the rebellion leadership? The Talmud sages complete the story in an original description of the events that occurred in the home of On, the fourth leader of the rebellion who disappears from the rest of the story. The Talmud tells it this way: On, the son of Pelet, was saved by his wife.

She said she to him, “What matters it to you? Whether the one [Moshe] remains master or the other [Korach] becomes master, you will be just a disciple.”

He answered her, “But what can I do? I have taken part in their counsel, and I swore allegiance to them.”

She said, “I know that they are all a holy community, as it is written, ‘all the congregation are holy.’” (Numbers 16:3).

She proceeded, “Sit here, and I will save you.” She served him wine to drink. He got drunk and she laid him down on his bed within (the tent). Then she sat down at the door of the entrance to the tent and loosened her hair. Whoever came (to summon him) saw her and retreated (as they didn’t want to be exposed to a married woman’s uncovered hair). In the meantime Korach and his supporters were swallowed up. (Talmud Bavli, Tractate Sanhedrin, page 109) We listen to the dedicated woman’s claims and learn from her an important lesson for the generations. Disputes are an inseparable part of history. Anywhere and anytime, there will be people who stand up and see themselves worthy of leadership and they will try to capture the hearts of the nation in various ways, where their goal is to place themselves in a position of leadership.

This is human nature. It has been this way throughout history.

But those same people who are interested in undermining the present leadership are not able to do so without public support. For this they must invest in a campaign promising “heaven on earth” to their supporters.

One promises to lower taxes, another promises freedom, and yet another persuades by badmouthing someone else. This is what politics looks like. And the public buys the promises and offers its support to different sides while it is sure that if a certain leader wins and gets the reins of power, all the citizens will live peacefully and in economic prosperity.

But On ben Pelet’s wife figured out the secret. She understood that the public doesn’t really benefit from changing the leadership. The ones who benefit are the different leaders. “Whatever happens,” she tells her husband, “your situation will not change significantly.”

When a person understands this truth, he understands that it is not worth participating in a dispute, that it’s not worth it to quarrel or get into arguments and lose dear friends.

These messages are just as relevant today. Am Yisrael is quarreling over important and central issues, and that is legitimate. Different people have different opinions and they argue among themselves. This is a natural phenomenon.

But we must be careful not to get carried away unnecessarily which would carry a heavy social price.

Arguments and disagreements – absolutely. But that does not mean that we should see those who disagree with us as personal enemies. Best to leave the personal disputes to the politicians. We will not benefit at all. We will only lose. The relationship among all the segments of the nation must remain based on love, brotherhood, peace and friendship.

The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.

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