Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

29 Sivan 5761 - June 20, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
The Removal of the Veil

by L. Jungerman

"The wisdom of women builds her house" (Mishlei 14:1). Say Chazal, this refers to the wife of Ohn ben Peles, who rescued her husband (from Korach's fate) by arguing: What difference does it make to you whether Moshe is the leader and you are his follower, or Korach is the leader and you are his follower?

Korach had various ideological arguments which are brought in the different midroshim and works of the rishonim and acharonim. None of them claim that Korach blatantly declared that he wished to be the leader. Had he said this outright, he would never have succeeded in gathering about him a group of two hundred and fifty heads of courts, such a solid following of distinguished people who listened avidly to his lofty thoughts, all for the sake of Heaven, as it were.

When Ohn ben Peles came home all afire with the flames of dissent, he surely presented the idealistic arguments that Korach had aired out against Moshe Rabbenu. And if this was so, we cannot help being surprised at the reaction of his wife, who asked very simply, "What difference does it make to you, personally, in the long run? If Moshe is the leader, you are no more than his follower. And if Korach is right, you are still no more than a hanger-on, so why get involved in the controversy?"

Indeed, what kind of an answer is this to an ideological challenge? How could her pragmatic approach have doused the flames of her husband's righteous indignation when they did not address the issues that disturbed him? She totally ignored the arguments he presented, circumvented them with a very cold, logical, realistic approach: What difference does all this make to you, anyway?

His reaction should naturally have been: What do you mean, what difference does it make? Is that what I asked? Did I involve my personal interest in this matter at all? I am talking purely about the contention between the two leaders; I have nothing to do with it. I am not an interested party, either way. Is that what you take me for, a person who only has his own interests at heart? I am disturbed by the fact that Moshe this and Moshe that . . . How can you be so selfish and single-minded as to think that all I have in mind is my own welfare in every issue? It is the issue itself that I care about, not my personal interest in the matter! Your argument is totally irrelevant to the topic, it is altogether beside the point.

HaGaon R' Refoel Tikochinsky zt'l points out that she really was clever in her thrust. It was her feminine wisdom that built and preserved her home. She, a perceptive woman, listened carefully to everything he had to say, to all of the pros and cons that were ostensibly "for the sake of Heaven," that is, ideological, to all of his reasons why some action had to be taken to set things straight and take sides against Moshe Rabbenu.

She heard him out to the very end, as a wise person must do, to listen to the words and the pauses, to glean the meaning behind the words that were spoken and those that were left unspoken. And she arrived at a very true and perceptive conclusion that what propelled this entire controversy was the basic issue of honor and jealousy. This was no ideological dissension. Rather the lofty talk was a mere cover-up for the underlying base faults in Korach's makeup, the desire for honor and the hatred stemming from envy and false pride.

She got down to the crux of the matter. She shook off all the dust, removed the veil of sanctimony that shrouded the issue and put her very finger on the single point that had caused this controversy to erupt in the beginning. It was a personal matter, not a holy war. It was a question of self interest, of gain. A war of profit. And if so, what business did he have mingling in it: he had nothing to gain in this war, for either way, he would still remain a tail end, a lackey, so why choose to be the hanger-on by Korach? Why get unnecessarily involved when it made no difference, personally, to him? The perceptive wisdom of women . . .


Actually, the entire company of Korach's two hundred and fifty followers, prestigious heads of Sanhedrin courts, could have arrived at this identical conclusion as well. But when Chazal stated the rule that envy and pride remove a person from this world, stresses R' Refoel, the meaning is not only for the future, the eventual bitter end that awaits people who suffer from the weaknesses of pride and jealousy, but the downfall is already in the very present as well. As soon as a person succumbs to these bad traits, he is already stricken down; he loses his human form and norm. He can no longer think rationally and logically; he leaves the society of normal human beings and becomes a self-inflicted pariah.

When Hashem admonished Yerovom for his evil deeds, He urged him, "Retract [repent], and I and you and the son of Yishai will stroll together in Gan Eden." Thereupon, Yerovom asked, "And who will go first?" When Hashem replied, "Ben Yishai will be first," Yerovom replied, "If so, I won't have any part of it." (Sanhedrin 102). Where is the logic here? Where is the wisdom, the common sense?

The answer is: this is not the question, for when a person is struck by a wave of jealousy, he is removed from the world. He loses his power of reasoning, his sense of proportion, his right mind. He can no longer think straight. No better proof than the daily rivalries, battles, controversies that erupt over matters that make absolutely no sense, reactions that are totally out of proportion to the issues and that don't even begin to be relevant!


It was only in the end of the matter that Moshe performed the heavenly sign with the staffs whereby the staff of Aharon budded and produced ripe almonds. Why didn't he do this portent right at the beginning of the outbreak? Would this not have silenced Korach and his company at the very onset and prevented the entire happening?

The answer is that so long as envy is at work, nothing else will help. Neither arguments "black on white" nor anything rational and convincing will be effective for the die is already cast and envy is already at work: Beware. Only after the afflicted ones were swallowed up in the ground or burned was it possible to talk sense to the people and to prove the righteousness of Hashem. Only then, "And they believed in Hashem and in Moshe His servant."

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