THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK

The Jewish Chronicle - - JUDAISM -

“Now Ko­rah, the son of Izhar, the son of Ko­hath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abi­ram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men” Num­bers 16:1

This week’s read­ing con­cerns a re­bel­lion against Moses. One mys­tery sur­rounds the fate of On. Ko­rah, Dathan and Abi­ram, are men­tioned by name in the verse above, along­side On. Later, they are swal­lowed by the earth (Num­bers 16:25-34). The next verse, af­ter ours, men­tions 250 ad­di­tional rebels. Later, we are told that they were con­sumed by a rag­ing fire (Num­bers 16:35). But we’re not told what hap­pened to On.

Into such a nar­ra­tive la­cuna, one can well ex­pect the midrashic tra­di­tion to ven­ture (see Num­bers Rab­bah 18:20). Ap­par­ently, On was saved from pun­ish­ment be­cause ul­ti­mately, he didn’t go through with his act of re­bel­lion. This, we are told, was due to the wise ac­tions of his wife.

These head­lines are well known, but the de­tails of the Midrash are some­what darker. On’s wife ar­gues that her hus­band stands to lose a lot, and stands to gain very lit­tle, from Ko­rah’s re­bel­lion.

Her op­po­si­tion to the re­bel­lion is pre­sented, at least to him, as self-in­ter­ested. More­over, she isn’t able to talk sense into him. In­stead, she gets him too drunk to leave their home. Fi­nally, she sits im­mod­estly dressed, with her daugh­ter, at the en­trance to their tent. On’s al­lies come to col­lect him and are so put-off by this show of im­mod­esty, that they re­frain from com­ing in.

These rebels, who were too up­stand­ing to coun­te­nance im­mod­est dress, ap­par­ently, thought of them­selves as holy.

Of course, the rab­bis care about our hav­ing ap­pro­pri­ate mo­ti­va­tion; they care about prin­ci­ples of right­eous­ness, sanc­tity and jus­tice. But, in their view, it is bet­ter to do the right things for the wrong rea­sons, than to walk around, out­wardly frum, with an in­flated sense of your own right­eous­ness, as you lead a re­bel­lion against God.

RABBI DR SA­MUEL LEBENS

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