Sunday, June 22, 2008

Korach, Bamidbar 16:1. Vayikach Korach. What a Difference a Good Shidduch Makes

The Gemara talks about the word ‘vayikach’, and why the story of Korach begins with this word. There are several pshatim in the Medrash and the Gemara.

Harav Dr. Akiva Eisenberg of Queens once said that the term "vayikach" alludes to the story brought in the Gemara in Sanhedrin 109b-110a. The Gemara brings the passuk in Mishlei 14 “Chachmos nashim bansah beysah, ve'iveles be'yadah tehersenu;" "The wise among the women build their home, and the crooked destroys it with her own hands." The Gemara tells us that Ohn ben Peles’ wife saved him(you’re not going to be the leader anyway, why join the rebellion?), while Korach’s wife goaded her husband into the fight (Moshe did what to you? And you let him get away with it? Are you any kind of man at all?). This, Rabbi Eisenberg explained, is why the Parsha begins with vayikach. Chazal tell us that in the Torah, marriage is always referred to with the term ‘kichah,’ as we know from the limud of kiddushei kesef “kichah kichah”. The wife of Korach agitated and incited him, while the wife of Ohn convinced him to withdraw from the fight with Moshe. It was Korach's "vayikach" that destroyed him, and it was Ohn Ben Peles' "vayikach" that saved him.

Many people are aware of the Gemara in Sanhedrin. But this insight highlights the idea that the very first word of the Parsha of Korach, the introduction to the tragedy, is the "Vayikach". Vayikach Korach ve'Ohn ben Peles-- it was their 'kichah's that sent one to his doom and saved the other from imminent death.

I noticed that the Gemara in Sotah 10b also brings a similar passuk about Avshalom; when he began his rebellion against his father, it says (Shmuel 2 18: ) “Ve’Avsholom lokach vayatzeiv lo matzeiva...”, and the Gemara asks, what did he take, and says various teirutzim, with the same nusach as the Gemarah in Sanhedrin. The same pshat can be applied there; in fact, there the passuk ends by saying that he set up ‘yad Avshalom’ because he didn’t have any children, and he wanted a zikoron for himself, that his wife influenced him to do what he did.

Who suffered the most from the rebellion of Korach? Who was punished most horribly as a result of this event? Was it Korach, who was swallowed up by the earth and buried alive? Was it the 250 supporters, who were burned? No. The most terrible fate was not the one suffered by those who were burned or those who were buried: it was the one suffered by the lone survivor, Ohn ben Peles.  Let me explain why.

Ohn Ben Peles' wife saw through Korach’s demagoguery about all men being equal, and she told Ohn, don’t be silly, don’t listen to that utopian nonsense about everyone being equal, he is going to make himself king, and you will be a follower once again. (Or, as Rabbi Dr. GS said, “you’re a loser no matter what.”) And Ohn says, but what can I do? I'm committed! So she says, leave it to me. She then proceeds to make him drunk, and scares away the Korach people that come to get him. You have to visualize what happened after that. The next day, Ohn is recovering from his bender, he probably still has a headache, and he and his wife are standing there, watching Korach and company confronting Moshe, and then they hear a rumble, a loud and sudden crack! and the earth opens, and Korach and his people fall into Gehinom. Ohn’s wife turns to him and says, “You see what happens???” If Ohn Ben Peles would ever dare to disagree with his wife, all she would have to do is say, “You are disagreeing with me?  You also have an opinion?” Or she would just give him a look.

Korach was not the only man to fall, alive, into a Gehinom that day.  (This sounds even better in Yiddish.)

That is, of course, an easy joke, like Mothers in Law jokes. It is more important to reflect on how vital a spouse’s advice on ruchniusdike matters can be. Although the Gemara says that concerning ‘milli d’shmaya’ a husband should make the decisions, if a man is zocheh to have an “isha chachama,” only if he is a fool would he ignore the words of the wise wife Hashem blessed him with. The best example is that of Reb Akiva's wife, Rachel. In the recently published collection of Reb Akiva Eiger's letters, I saw a letter he wrote to his brother in law telling him that he had spent many hours during the night discussing mussar and hashkafa with his wife-- not teaching, discussing. If one is, heaven forbid, cursed with an ‘eishes Korach,’ he needs to act accordingly. But if he is blessed with an “eishes Ohn ben Peles,” he’d better learn to appreciate what he has.

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