Korah son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and certain Reubenites—Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth—became insolent. — Numbers 16:1
The Torah portion for this week is Korach, which means “Korah,” from Numbers 16:1–18:32, and the Haftorah is from 1 Samuel 11:14–12:22.
This week’s Torah portion opens with the infamous rebellion of Korah and his followers. Aside from Korah, three men are singled out in the first verse: “Dathan and Abiram . . . and On son of Peleth.” Interestingly, while we hear plenty about Dathan and Abiram in the following verses, we learn nothing more about On. What was his fate?
According to Judaism’s oral tradition, while On got swept up in the rebellion, his wife had other ideas and she literally changed his fate. The Jewish sages teach that she did three things. First, she spoke to On in terms he could relate to. She said, “What difference does this make to you? Either you will serve Moses or you will serve Korah. Either way, you neither gain nor lose anything.”
The second thing that On’s wife did was give him a strong drink that put him into a long, deep sleep during which she sat outside their tent with her hair uncovered. It was prohibited for an Israelite man to look at a married woman’s hair, so when the rebels came to get On the next morning, he was still sleeping and his wife’s uncovered hair caused the men to stay away.
Finally, when the mouth of the earth opened up to swallow the rebels, the crack in the ground came toward On’s tent and his bed began to slide toward the pit. On’s wife held onto his bed and prayed for his life. Her prayers were answered, and On’s life was spared.
Many of us who have seen loved ones choose a destructive life path can relate to On’s wife. We can learn from On’s wife how we might react in such a situation. She did not scream or lecture her husband, rather she spoke to him on his own terms. Next, she did what she could in order to keep bad influences away from her husband, and finally she prayed her heart out. This combination did the job and changed her loved one’s destiny.
Yet there is another lesson here for us. One could ask why the story of On’s wife is not recorded in the Bible. But that’s exactly the point and the message. The world is often moved by those behind the scenes. It’s the mother who encourages her child. The wife who advises her husband well. The friend who supports another friend during a hard time. The teacher who inspires a student to do great things. Like the wind that goes unseen but can powerfully guide a ship toward its destination, we can quietly and humbly support our loved ones and help them become all that they can.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President