The dramatic story of a serious challenge to Moses’ leadership is told in this week’s Torah reading. Korach, first cousin of Moses, stirred up a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, with the aim of replacing Aaron as High Priest. Korach was actually a very learned man, and a member of the respected tribe of Levi. What possibly could have led him pose such a foolhardy challenge to Moses?
Korach had a number of followers, one of whom was called On the son of Pelet. At the last moment he dropped out of the dispute and was thereby saved from the terrible fate of Korach and his supporters. What saved him?
According to the Sages, in both cases it was a woman behind the scenes who was responsible for the fate of her husband.
Korach’s wife was ambitious and politically minded. She resented the fact that her husband, undeniably a man of great learning and talent, had been passed over. She pointed out to her husband that Moses had chosen the "plum jobs" for himself and his brother Aaron. Korach had also been passed over as regards other leadership roles. Her deep resentment was transmitted to her husband. He became the leader of a rebellion which ended disastrously for him and his followers, as described in our Parshah.
And what of On the son of Pelet? He began as a follower of Korach, but his wife could see that this was a completely false path. The Midrash tells us that she was determined to prevent him from joining Korach’s group. She had discussions with her husband, and convinced him that he would gain nothing from the rebellion. She also succeeded in preventing the other leaders of the rebellion from forcing her husband to join them. She saved her husband and her entire family from destruction.
This shows us one dimension of womanhood: her power to persuade. The story of Adam and Eve and many other incidents in the Torah reiterate this theme.
In an open society like ours, where people have to be convinced of the right path rather than simply instructed along it, this power becomes particularly important. It represents a different approach to life than that which has been dominant for most epochs of history. As such it is highly relevant to men as well as to women. Instead of assertion of authority, gentle persuasion.
Another aspect of womanhood is even more profound. This is her ability to see through false appearances and discover the path which is true and good. This is another theme, expressed in Torah stories about Sarah, Miriam and many other women. The Sages tell us regarding the generation of Jews who were slaves in Egypt that while the men had fallen into abject despair which would lead only to destruction, the women had hope and faith and therefore succeeded in preserving the existence of the Jewish people. In their merit the Jews were redeemed.
Why do women have this extra sensitivity? "An extra measure of understanding was given to the woman," says the Talmud. It is a Divine gift. Women also have a special spiritual power. The Lubavitcher Rebbe has repeatedly stated that, as in the time of the Exodus from Egypt, through the merit of Jewish women today the Messiah will come. This is the ultimate dimension of womanhood!