Our sages hold Ahron up as the avatar of peace who loved and pursued peace. He is the embodiment of relationships, mending not just spiritual rifts but interpersonal ones as well.
But what was there to fight about in the desert?
There was no struggle for resources and no conventional economy or business to provoke competition or incite envy. They ate magic food and drank magic water, and their clothes were auto-dry cleaned nightly.
There wasn’t much to fight about.
R’ Meilech Biderman highlights the fundamental truth that even when there isn’t anything much in particular worth fighting about, some people will still be inclined to create conflict. Some people don’t need legitimate grievances to sow argument and discord; they will incite strife over the most trivial and inconsequential things.
Korach is the Torah’s example of this; more privileged than most, but someone else has a little more. So one evening, he rouses a mob for open rebellion and challenges Moshe.
How would you respond to such public and baseless humiliation?
Moshe doesn’t take the bait to engage or finish the debate there and then. He calls for a public trial the next morning for all to see, and the story continues the following day.
Rashi notes that instead of engaging, Moshe stalled for time in the hope that Korach and his followers might reconsider and repent, abandoning their challenge and averting the impending catastrophe. But only one person did.
Out of the multitude enflamed by Korach’s uprising, only one person sees through the illusion – On Ben Peleth. His moment of clarity doesn’t arrive through divine revelation or philosophical insight but through a simple conversation with his wife. She asked him a straightforward question: “What’s in it for you?” Whether it was Ahron or Korach as the leader, he’d still only be a disciple, so what did he stand to gain from participating in the dispute? For this, our sages herald her as a woman whose wisdom is constructive – חַכְמוֹת נָשִׁים בָּנְתָה בֵיתָהּ.
But the thing is, there is nothing profound whatsoever about her position. It’s common sense! Anyone is capable of cost-benefit analysis; there is nothing wise about it, yet our sages set this wisdom as the gold standard to aim for.
R’ Chaim Shmulevitz insightfully suggests that wisdom doesn’t always lie in complex philosophies or grand revelations; sometimes, wisdom is remembering and applying simple truths in complex situations. It is not wisdom in the traditional intellectual sense but a different, no less valuable, sort of wisdom: the wisdom of practicality, of understanding human nature, of being grounded in reality, holding onto common sense when the world around you is caught in a storm of confusion.
Moshe doesn’t respond in the heat of the moment, and On Ben Peleth’s wife wouldn’t allow her husband to act in the heat of the moment. These examples offer us a pragmatic approach and grounded understanding of approaching conflict. In the heat of the moment, when our judgment is clouded by emotions, controversy, and mob mentality, it is wise to hit the pause button; it is wise to return to fundamental truths to assess the situation.
These examples encourage us to search for wisdom in simplicity and remind us that not every battle is ours to fight, and guide us toward individual and collective calm amid the storm. They underscore the importance of strategic thought and action in high-stakes situations, which often present an amplified version of reality, forcing us to confront the volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous nature of our existence. In an unbalanced situation, remaining calm demonstrates resilience and personal strength. Maintaining a cool head in these moments is a form of embracing this reality and accepting the world as it is rather than as we wish it to be. Our calm can influence those around us, promoting a collective equanimity that can transform potentially destructive situations.
Moshe’s pause didn’t save everyone, but it saved one family from catastrophe, whose story is a reminder of the importance of maintaining a cool head in high-stakes situations. It illuminates our potential to choose differently, to course correct, and take a step back from the precipice, even when we find ourselves on the verge of disaster. It invites us to recognize the wisdom in everyday pragmatism, the strength in quiet resilience, and the potential for redemption even amidst the most turbulent storms.
Remembering simple things in difficult moments is not simple.