This week’s parshah relates the repercussions of machlokes and sinas chinam. As we know, Korach and all his followers were swallowed into the ground forever, together with their houses and all their belongings. HaGaon Rav Ovadia Yosef said the agitators behind machlokes ultimately suffer bitterly.
The Torah begins the episode of Korach with, “Korach, the son of Yitzhar, the son of Kehas, the son of Levi separated himself…and On, the son of Peles, the son of Reuven.” The Torah says nothing, however, about On after this point.
Commenting on this point, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 110a) states that the first half of Mishlei 14:1 – “The wisdom of women builds her house” – refers to On’s wife while the latter half of this verse – “but the foolish one tears it down with her hands” – refers to Korach’s wife.” The Talmud then says:
On’s wife was a great woman; Korach’s wife, in contrast, was evil, causing her husband to be jealous of Moshe Rabbeinu. Korach helped carry the aron containing Hashem’s luchos. What greater mission could one have? But Korach’s wife was not satisfied. She believed Moshe had seized the leadership for himself as well as his immediate family and wanted her husband to be the leader instead.
Hashem commanded Moshe to ritually purify the Leviyim, which included having all their hair shorn. When Korach returned shaven from the purification process, his wife complained and harped on Moshe’s alleged quest for power. She argued that Moshe was fabricating his own laws until Korach finally became convinced of the veracity of her arguments and organized a revolt.
On ben Peles was originally part of this group and swore his allegiance to them. His wife, however, was wise and warned him against joining the mutiny, reminding him that he had nothing to gain personally. On ben Peles argued that he had already pledged his loyalty to the cause, so his wife gave him wine to drink, and he fell into a deep sleep inside his tent.
On’s wife then sat outside the doorway and let her hair loose. When Korach’s group saw a woman with uncovered hair, they did not approach the tent to pick up On. As a result, On was saved since he was not with Korach and his assembly when the fire descended from heaven and consumed them.
The Talmud elaborates that On’s name reflects the events of this time. When On (lashon aninus, mourning) realized how mistaken he was, he fasted and repented all his life. And in the merit of his wife, a true woman of valor, wonders were performed for Ben Peles (lashon pe’le, wonder).
The great gaon Rav Eliyahu Lopian, one of the most influential exponents of the mussar movement and author of Lev Eliyahu, resided in the city of Kelm. When his family began to outgrow their small apartment, he began to search for a larger one to accommodate them. It took him a long time to find a suitable place – since apartments were rarely available and generally expensive – but he finally found something and started moving his belongings to it after reaching a deal with the landlord.
As the movers drew up in front of the apartment, a man standing in front of the building, called out, “You should know, R’ Eliyahu, that my daughter is about to get married. I have looked throughout the city for an apartment for her, and this is the only one I was able to find. Then you came and took the apartment. If you go into this apartment, I will need to cancel the wedding.”
When Rav Lopian’s family heard the man’s pronouncement, they began to argue. “What arrogance! What lack of honor for Torah! A family with children finally finds a place to live, signs an agreement with the landlord, and now you, who came later, feel you have a just claim and are protesting.”
Rav Eliyahu Lopian, however, initially remained silent. Then he turned to the movers and requested that they return all the family’s belongings to the old apartment.