Destruction and Salvation: the great power of women

 A Torah scroll being written. (photo credit: GETTY IMAGES/JTA)
A Torah scroll being written.
(photo credit: GETTY IMAGES/JTA)

This coming Shabbat we will read the Torah section of Korach in the synagogue which relates the dreadful controversy that ripped the Israelites into factions during their stay in the desert.

In his talk, Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto gave a glimpse into the deeper meaning of the Torah section. He said that if we look at the entire controversy involving Korach and his group, it seems that the ones who spurred the strife and fueled the fire were women.

Ohn ben Pelet's wife saved her husband from the controversy as the Gemara explains (Sanhedrin 109b). Ohn ben Pelet, one of the main people supporting Korach in his rebellion against Moses,  was an important and smart man from the tribe of Reuven. Fortunate for him, Ohn ben Pelet had a smart wife who perceptively told him, “What do you have to gain from this? If Moses is right - you will gain nothing, and if Korach is right, he will be the president of the Israelites instead of Moses, and here too you will gain nothing. So why get involved?” Ohn ben Pelet realized the wisdom of her words, but told her that he had sworn to Korach to side with him and couldn’t withdraw since they had been together from the beginning in this putsch against Moses.

Ohn ben Pelet's wife provided him a way out. She poured him wine so he would fall asleep. Then she sat at the door of their home, took off her head-covering and began curling her hair. The people supporting Korach were righteous men. When they came to call Ohn to join them and saw his wife at the door of their home with her hair revealed, they were shaken at her immodesty and turned and left without entering the house. When Ohn ben Pelet woke up, it was already after the rebels had all been swallowed up in the ground and nothing was left of them. Ohn ben Pelet's wife had wisely saved him from the controversy by displaying her hair.

A similar story in reverse happened to Korach. The Gemara tells us (Pesachim 119a) in the name of Rabbi Chama bar Chanina that there were three treasures that Joseph had buried in Egypt, one was discovered by Korach, one was discovered by Antoninus Pius, and one was hidden away for the righteous in the future. Korach possessed every single virtue - he was wise and rich and righteous. The holy Ari says that the end of the words of the passage (Psalms 92:13) “The righteous will blossom like a date palm" spells Korach who will one day again become a righteous man.

When G-d appointed the tribe of Levi to be His priests, the Levites were commanded to take a razor and shave off all the hair on their bodies as part of the process of preparing and purifying themselves for their holy work. Afterwards, the Levites were lifted off the ground and waved around. This was also done to Korach who was the wealthiest Israelite. They shaved the hair off his head, hands, legs, and entire body and waved him in the air. When he returned home, his wife was taken aback at his appearance and suggested that Moses had done this to him to make fun of him. Here he was, the famous rich man, hairless and humiliated, while Aharon, Moses's brother, was beautifully combed and dressed in beautiful garments like a king. Korach's wife incited him with these words to rebel against Moses and cause the great destruction and the bitter controversy that appears in the Torah forever and ever and is known as the “controversy of Korach and his group.”

The Torah says "And the sons of Korach did not die" (Numbers 20:11) Korach died but his sons did not die. In every generation there are those who rise up against the generation’s leading scholar. These may be called the “sons of Korach and his group.” It’s the same dispute as the one started by Korach's wife, who incited him over his shaved hair and being waved, which led to all the destruction. 

We see here the power of two women. Ohn ben Pelet's wife saved him through her hair and brought redemption to the world, while Korach's wife caused his and many others’ destruction also because of hair, Rabbi Pinto said in conclusion.

This article was written in cooperation with Shuva Israel