"The wise one of the women builds her home and the foolish one destroys it with her own hands." (Mishlei 14:1)
This contrast which King Shlomo drew between two sorts of women is sharply illustrated in the roles played by two different women in the rebellion which Korach led against Moshe while the Israelites were traveling through the desert on their way to Eretz Yisrael.
The wise woman, says the Sage Rav, is the wife of Ohn ben Peles, who prevented her husband from continuing on with the conspirators whom he had initially joined, and thus saved him from being swallowed up by the earth like the others. The foolish one is the wife of Korach, who incited her husband to lead the rebellion.
In order to initiate the Levites, the tribe of Korach, into their sacred role as servants of G-d in the Sanctuary, Moshe had been commanded by G-d to shave off all their hair and to lift them up. When Korach came home and related to his wife what had been done to him and his fellow Levites, she exploited this as an opportunity to incite him against Moshe. She suggested that Moshe had received no Divine command, but removed their hair because he was envious of the physical beauty which it bestowed them. She also interpreted his picking them up and moving them around as an expression of relating to them as nothing more than refuse. These and similar incitements encouraged Korach to embark on his fatal endeavor.
The commentaries draw an important lesson from the tragedy caused by Korachs wife. It is not advisable for a man to share with his wife the indignity he has suffered at the hands of others. Although he may be seeking compassion for his hurt, his effort may prove counterproductive by moving his wife to challenge him to get even, or to cause her to think that the others may be right and thus reduce her respect for him.
A Sword in Their Hand
I once entered the Egyptian city of Alexandria, recalled Rabbi Eliezer ben Yossi, and encountered an old man who said to me, "Come and I will show you what my ancestors did to yours. Some of them they drowned in the river, some they killed with the sword and some they entombed in the walls of buildings."
It was in regard to this suffering of his people, adds the gemara, that Moshe was punished. "Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your Name," he had complained to G-d, "their situation has become worse and You have not saved them." He was thereupon rebuked for failing to show the same trust as did the Patriarchs, and was informed that he would witness the triumph over Pharaoh but would not be entitled to witness the triumph over the 31 kings in the conquest of Eretz Yisrael. (Shmot 5:22-6:1)
What the old Egyptian showed Rabbi Eliezer, points out Maharsha, were the national archives, rather than the actual bodies of the victims which hardly could have been available. The author also suggests that this gemara refers to Moshes complaint about the deterioration of the situation of his people as a result of the decree which Pharaoh issued after their first encounter to withhold straw from his Israelite slaves but yet require them to fill the same daily quota of bricks. Failure to fill this quota led to the children of the slaves being entombed in the walls to take the place of the missing bricks.
Moshe, he adds, was also reflecting the complaint he had just heard from the Israelite officers about causing Pharaoh and the Egyptians to be upset with their slaves and this "put a sword in their hand to slay us" (ibid. 5:21). Until Moshe came to Pharaoh the Egyptians hesitated to slay the Israelites with the sword, for they feared G-d would punish them through the sword. They restricted themselves to casting male Israelite babies into the river because they mistakenly relied on the Divine promise after the Great Deluge not to bring flood waters again to destroy the world. "Why did you send me?" complained Moshe, who was aware of the notoriety he had gained years earlier in Egypt for slaying the Egyptian taskmaster who was beating an Israelite to death. Moshe had been portrayed by the Egyptians as a killer in order to provide them with justification for taking up the sword against Moshes people in so-called "self-defense". Here we have a preview of how throughout history Jewish self-defense would be distorted into a blood libel excuse for persecution.