A new sheriff in town? Not so fast

A new sheriff in town? Not so fast

Rabbi David Novitsky
Rabbi David Novitsky

Parshat Korach, Numbers 16:1–18:32

Since the beginning of recorded time there have always been political challenges to the leadership and the establishment of every society and institution. Moses and his colleagues were certainly not an exception to this rule.

In this week’s Torah portion we read about an outright rebellion by Korach against his cousins and fellow Levites Moses and Aaron: an all-out attempt to overthrow them as leaders of the Jewish Nation. This conflict was not attributed to a divine motivation nor was it driven by a desire to benefit the Jewish people. Its only basis was for the personal gain and ego of Korach and for a few of his followers. His evil accomplices were Dasan, Aviram, 250 men of questionable stature and finally “On,” the son of Pelet, a Reubenite.

At the end of this tragic saga, the earth opened its mouth and swallowed Korach and his followers. The 250 men perished through fire. On ben Pelet was originally mentioned as one of the leaders of Korach’s insurrection. Yet, he is not mentioned in the confrontation and punishment associated with Korach and his other followers.

The fate of On ben Pelet is a mystery since the Torah does not explain his disappearance or fate.

The Talmud in Sanhedrin 109B mentions the following occurrence: When On ben Pelet arrived home he was saved by his precious wife. She asked her husband if it makes a difference to him whether Moshe or Korach were in command. She indicated that in either scenario he would just be a follower, or as my late father would say, a Shamas serving whoever was his master. He then told her he had sworn allegiance to both Korach and his company and was unable to withdraw from his alliance with Korach.

She served On wine until he became intoxicated and he went to sleep. She sat in front of her tent and untied her hair. According to Rashi, anyone of Korach’s men who came to their residence to retrieve her husband saw her uncovered hair, which is forbidden, so they then returned back to their home. When On had later awakened, Korach and all his followers had already perished.

The most significant lesson to be gleaned from the predicament of On is that the best soulmate possesses character, intelligence, commitment, values, love guidance and courage and will lead you in the proper path.

Rabbi David Novitsky is spiritual leader of Beth Israel Congregation. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.