We live in an age of protest, and this generates a host of opinions. The Sedra this week, Korach, opens up this debate, which is as relevant today as in the past. The narrative seems simple. Korach, Abiram and Dathan rebel against Moses together with On the son of Peleth. They do not listen and the earth swallows them up. This is followed by more punishment:
A fire came forth from the Lord and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who had offered up the incense.
All this is followed by a plague causing the death of another 14,500 which only ceases after Aaron takes up the duty of offering acceptable incense. This confirms his position. He and his children will take care of the Sanctuary and receive tithes.
What drove the conspirators?
Korach is a grandson of Levi and his father was Kohath. This was a family whose duty was to transport items of the tabernacle but not to touch them. The temptation to covet the role of the priests represented by Aaron would have been great. His actual complaint was that
You take too much upon yourselves, for the entire congregation are all holy
The family did not disappear and of all of the psalms in the Bible, eleven are attributed to the sons of Korach and are with us to this day.
Abiram and Dathan were more concerned with what they had left behind.
Is it not enough that you have brought us out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the desert, that you should also exercise authority over us?
But what about On, the son of Peleth? He does not seem to have been swallowed up with the other conspirators. He was caught up in the enthusiasm of this wave of protest much in the way that people join protest movements today; without any calm consideration of all the reasons.
If you want to understand resentments, listen to what people accuse others of doing; then you will know what they themselves want.
There is a Midrash that the wife of On took a stand against his involvement in this conspiracy. She asked, why go against God’s will just to obtain more power? She got her husband drunk and when he passed out in bed she sat outside their tent. When the other conspirators came to pick him up she would not let them in. She saved not only her husband’s life but her own life and that of her family as well.
The wisdom a wife needs to raise her children and protect her family is the same wisdom she needs to keep her husband in the centre of God’s will.