Where Did On Disappear to?
The opening verse of the Parshat Korach (Num. 16:1) names Korach’s three other collaborators: Dathan and Aviram, who later on are swallowed in the ground, and On ben Peleth who is mentioned once here but never again.
וַיִּקַּח קֹרַח, בֶּן-יִצְהָר בֶּן-קְהָת בֶּן-לֵוִי, וְדָתָן וַאֲבִירָם בְּנֵי אֱלִיאָב, וְאוֹןבֶּן-פֶּלֶת בְּנֵי רְאוּבֵן.
Now Korach, Son of Izhar son of Kohath son of Levi, betook himself, along with Dathan and Abiram sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth – descendants of Reuben.
Why is On never mentioned again? What happened to him? The Talmud (b. Sanhedrin 109b) provides the following story to explain what happened to On:
אמר רב: “און בן פלת אשתו הצילתו ,אמרה ליה: ‘מאי נפקא לך מינה? אי מררבה – אנת תלמידא, ואי מר רבה – אנת תלמידא.’ אמר לה: ‘מאי אעביד, הואי בעצה, ואשתבעי לי בהדייהו.’ אמרה ליה: ‘ידענא דכולה כנישתא קדישתא נינהו… תוב, דאנא מצילנא לך.’אשקיתיה חמרא, וארויתיה, ואגניתי הגואי, אותבה על בבא, וסתרתה למזיה ,כל דאתא חזיה, הדר. אדהכי והכיאבלעו להו.”
Rav said: “On was saved by his wife. She said to him,‘What does it matter to you whether Moses remains your master or Korach becomes your master? Either way, you remain a disciple.’ On replied, ‘But what can I do? I have sworn to help Korach.’ She said, ‘I know that the whole community [including the rebels] is holy… Sit here and I will save you.’ She gave him wine to drink, intoxicated him, and laid him down to sleep inside the tent. Then she sat at the entrance of the tent and uncovered her hair. Whoever came to summon On saw his wife sitting with her hair uncovered and retreated. Meanwhile they (Korah and others) were swallowed up by the earth.”
While this is a great midrash — there is little in the text to support the story. Scholars have suggested a solution based on the genealogy later on in Numbers 26 where we find that Dathan and Abiram father’s father was פַלּוּא Pallu.
ה רְאוּבֵן, בְּכוֹר יִשְׂרָאֵל; בְּנֵי רְאוּבֵן, חֲנוֹךְ מִשְׁפַּחַת הַחֲנֹכִי, לְפַלּוּא, מִשְׁפַּחַת הַפַּלֻּאִי.
5. Reuben, Israel’s first-born son. Descendants of Reuben: [Of] Enoch, the clan of Enochites; of Pallu, the clan of the Palluites,
ח וּבְנֵי פַלּוּא, אֱלִיאָב. ט וּבְנֵי אֱלִיאָב,נְמוּאֵל וְדָתָן וַאֲבִירָם.
8. Born to Pallu: Eliab. 9. The sons of Eliab were Nemueland Dathan and Abiram.
Peleth in our verse may have been a scribal error for Pallu. Accordingly, the text should read: Dathan and Abiram Sons of Eliab, son of Pallu, son of Reuben. This would parallel nicely with the full description of Korach’s genealogy.
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June 16, 2014
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