In his revolt against the authority of Moses and Aaron, Korach was supported by Dathan and Abiram and by On, the son of Peleth. The opening verse of this sedra is the only place where On ben Peleth is mentioned, and his name does not occur in the more detailed narrative that follows. Noting the absence of the name from the subsequent account, the Talmud states that On, the son of Peleth, was saved from the consequences of his folly by the wisdom and sound common sense of his wife. She pointed out to him that he had nothing to gain from rebelling because whoever remained the leader, Moses or Korach, he – On – would be simply a follower (Sanhedrin 109b). He took her advice, withdrew from the rebellion, and was saved.

The Midrash finds allusions in On ben Peleth’s name to his initial involvement in Korach’s mutiny. He is called On (connected with aninut, mourning) because he did not cease from mourning for having sided with Korach, and he is named ben Peleth (connected with peleh, miracle) because he was rescued from destruction by a miracle. The Midrash also understands the words of Proverbs 14:11, “The wise among the women build her house,” to refer to On’s wife whose wisdom rescued her household from destruction. The Midrash further takes the continuation of the verse, “But the foolish woman overthrows it with her own hands,” to refer to Korach’s wife who, by encouraging her husband to rebel, destroyed him and herself (Bamidbar Rabbah 18:15).

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The good influence a Jewish woman can have is most effectively exerted in her home, the strongest fortress for moral values. As King David says in Psalms: “The glory of the King’s daughter is in her home.” From the earliest times in the history of Israel, the honored place of the Jewish woman was first and foremost in her home because of the Jewish values she nurtures in her family.

The most vital areas of a Jew’s life are entrusted to a women’s care and attention. Thus, the Mishnah in Tractate Shabbat mentions three mitzvot specifically highlighting the woman’s powerful and central role in Judaism: niddah (laws of family purity), challah (sanctifying a portion of baked bread), and hadlakat nerot (lighting candles). Niddah governs sexual relations and procreation; challah symbolizes sanctity and kashrut in the home; and candles are a symbol of the Sabbath and the Festivals which enable us to sanctify time.

The Torah states that G-d created Eve from Adam’s rib in order that she should be a helpmate for him – “ezer kenegdo.” (Genesis 2:18). The Hebrew phrase is somewhat contradictory: Ezer is “a help” and kenegdo means “against him.” In the Talmud (Yevamot 63a), Rabbi Elazar solved the difficulty by saying that if her husband is worthy, she is there to help him, but if he is not worthy, then she is against him.

Perhaps, however, she sometimes helps him by being against him. If she smoothes his rough edges, corrects his faults, and points out when he is wrong, she helps him by not mirroring or reinforcing his shortcomings.

Sometimes only a wife can appropriately correct her husband. A man is often a poor judge of his own character and cannot see himself objectively. Thus, the gematriya (numerical value) of isha (wife) in Hebrew equals mussar (rebuke), because only a wife can properly reprove and correct her husband. Mussar in gematriya also equals d’vash (honey). For rebuke to be effective, it must be given in a sweet and pleasant manner.

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Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher is dean of students at the Diaspora Yeshiva in Jerusalem.
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