When is the passion that drives a man to rise up to fight informed by the will of God? When is his rush to arms “righteous indignation” and when is it simply hubris, or worse? Men all too often become consumed with their passions to right a perceived slight; all too often afire by their quest for power. In that heat of passion, of indignation, of perceived righteousness a man’s ability to reason is often overwhelmed and his ability to coolly assess his best and most appropriate way forward is too often lost.
He is awash in foolish pride.
When that happens, when the fire of the moment consume a man’s ability to reason, he is fortunate indeed if he has a good wife by his side. And if he has the good fortune to have a good wife, then his most sincere prayer should be for the good sense to listen to her.
As the rabbis teach us, the Korach rebellion offers a case in point.
Our understanding of the rebellion is straightforward. Korach, a wealthy leader of the Levites, and a cousin of Moses and Aaron, felt slighted by being overlooked when the highest priestly honors were distributed. Jealousy and envy colored his relationship with Moses and Aaron, as well as his cousin, Elzaphan, who had been placed at the head of the Levites after Aaron's family had become elevated to the rank of Kohanim.
Recognizing that his riches and standing was not enough to undermine the people’s faith in Moses and Aaron, Korach sought a rebellion to overthrow their leadership.
He went to the people of the tribe of Reuben and convinced their leaders to join him in his conspiracy, aligning with Dathan and Abiram, troublemakers since their days in Egypt. With his co-conspirators, he convinced as many as 250 leaders to join him in rebellion. 250 men of standing! Emboldened by their numbers, they felt ready to directly confront Moses’ leadership.
The horrible result of their hubris is well-recounted by the rabbis. BaMidbar Rabbah recounts how Korach suffered the double punishment of being burned and buried alive. Indeed, the very earth became like a funnel and everything that belonged to him fell along with him into the chasm.
How is it that a man, a mighty and important man, could allow himself to be engulfed with such rebellious passion? There are several explanations but the one that rings true is that he did not have a good and wise wife at his side. The rabbis suggest that when he consulted his wife, she encouraged him to revolt. “See what Moses has done! He has proclaimed himself king; he has made his brother High Priest, and his brother’s sons priests…”
How much better for Ohn, the son of Peles, who had a good and wise woman at his side!
Ohn had been an early leader and organizers of Korach’s rebellion. However, when the fight was engaged, he was absent. It was no fear that kept him away from the confrontation. It was his wife. And she made sure that his co-conspirators would not have access to him, lest they try and draw him back into the ungodly morass.
Unlike Korach’s wife, who fed her husband’s wounded pride, Ohn’s wife, challenged him, “What have you to gain from this folly? Even should Korach win, he will be Kohen Gadol and you will be subservient to him, as you are now to Moshe and Aaron.”
In other words, “Think, you fool! What have you to gain by engaging in this behavior? Nothing!”
The Talmud praises her wisdom, citing a verse in Mishlei “Chochmos nashim bansa beisa” (the wise women [each one] builds her house.) In contrast, the Talmud passes judgment on Korach’s wife, “veiveles be’yadeia te’arsenu” (and the foolish one destroys it with her own hands.)
R’ Chaim Shmulevitz explains that dispute, conflict, confrontation and chaos inevitably cloud a person’s rational thinking. Fury, anger, emotions and tensions simply do not allow one to view situations clearly and honestly. It is then, in the midst of that heat of passion, that simple, rational advice and guidance from a well-meaning, caring wife is praiseworthy. To have a level-headed, clever wife at one’s side who can see and evaluate life’s situations, especially when chaos and confusion reigns supreme, and who can lead her hot-headed husband away from his shtik is a wife such as Mishlei calls wise.