Who Says You Can’t Change Other People?

Korach’s wife poisoned her husband's heart with jealousy. Then Korach, Moshe Rabbeinu’s first cousin, began to set in motion a rebellion against Moshe because he himself wanted to be leader of the Jewish people. Korach invited the men from the tribe of Reuven to join him. One of them, Onn, was impressed with Korach’s arguments and decided to go along with him. When Onn returned home, he told his wife that he had joined Korach in the fight against Moshe. Onn’s wife, however, knew that Korach was motivated by evil desires. She tried hard to persuade her husband that he had nothing to gain by joining Korach’s rebellion. But she was afraid that it was too late, as Onn had already sworn to Korach that he would help him. So, in order to save her husband from disaster, Onn's Wife then mixed some strong wine into his drink. He fell asleep immediately and slept heavily. Then she and her daughter went to sit at the entrance to their tent, where they could be seen publicly, without their hair coverings. This was something no other Jewish woman had ever done.

Korach’s messengers would not speak with or even look at Jewish women not dressed correctly, so when they arrived to tell Onn to come to Korach’s secret gathering, they quickly turned around and left.

Several times Korach sent new messengers. But they, too, would not come close. Due to the wisdom of his wife, Onn escaped the destruction that was the lot of Korach and his family — when the earth suddenly opened up and swallowed them (Bamidbar Rabbah 18:15).

Our Sages teach us that the verse “The Wise woman builds her home…” (Mishlei 14:1) refers to the wife of Onn, who used her wisdom to save her husband and her home from destruction. ”But the foolish woman demolishes it with her own hands” (ibid.), refers to the wife of Korach, who brought ruination on her husband and her household.

Now we can better understand the significance of the Hebrew term often used in describing women: akeres habayis. As always, with Hebrew words, the term is full of meaning. “Habayis” means the home, and “akeres” is derived from the word “ikar,” which means root, or essence, indicating that she is the most important part of the home. But “akeres” is similar to the word “0keres,” which means ”uproot.” The wife, through her actions, can choose to be the root of the home or its uprooter.

The Talmud teaches us that “Everything comes from the woman.” An example is told of a righteous man and a righteous woman who were married but had no children. Therefore they decided to get divorced. The righteous man married a wicked woman, and he became “wicked like her,” whereas the righteous woman married a wicked man, and he became “righteous like her” (Bereishis Rabbah, Parashas Bereishis).

The completion of the state of goodness in creation was not man; it was woman. As the Talmud elaborates, only through his wife does a man become a true man: “How good are your tents, Yaakov, your mini-sanctuaries, Yisrael” (Bamidbar 24:5). How can these words be explained? “Good” refers to the woman. It is she who is capable of uplifting Yaakov to become Yisrael, his loftier, full potential. It is she who is capable of raising her tent to become a mini-sanctuary.

Livelihood and blessing come to a home in the merit of the woman, and it is in her hands to pray that her husband should succeed in Torah and that he should have success in making a living. She is called nekeivah, the Hebrew for “female,” which is similar to nakvah sechareich v’etnah — “spell out your reward and I will give it to you.” The woman has the power to pray, and her prayers are accepted in Heaven.

A home is a mirror of the wife. The prevailing atmosphere is created by her. Therefore, even though it is ideal for both partners to make a joint effort and accept equal responsibility for improving their relationship, it sometimes happens that only one partner rises to the challenge.

If it is the woman who takes upon herself the responsibility to improve the relationship with her husband, she can accomplish this even without her husband’s efforts. This, through the use of her special, G—d-given tools and powers. We know that women were created with an extra dimension of wisdom (Bereishis Rabbah 18:1). If the husband is reluctant to make changes, or to admit to a faulty relationship, or to seek help for their problems, the wife can still achieve tremendous results.

A person can improve another person's behavior indirectly by improving his own behavior. We women can bring about amazing changes in our homes (which may include un— cooperative husbands) by changing ourselves and having our husbands, ever so slowly, but ultimately, learn from our example.

This idea, then, gives light to the beautiful explanation of the verse “Vehu yimshol bach — And he will rule over you” (Bereishis 3:16). The words yimshol bach usually mean “to rule over you.” Since vehu means “and he,” the phrase is usually translated “And he will rule over you,” referring to a husband ruling over his Wife. But the words yimshol back have another meaning as well: “to learn from your example.” Therefore, “Vehu yimshol back” can also be translated, “And he will learn from your example.”

What we need to continually refocus on is what we are obligated to do, not what the other is obligated to do. We should try very hard not to pay attention to our husbands’ obligations to us, but rather to our own obligations as wives.

There is a famous story of two water carriers who lived in Radin. Both of them used to do the same work every day, dragging the huge, empty buckets to the well outside the village, filling them with water and pulling on the rope to raise the full containers. Then they carried them on their shoulders back to the village and went from door to door, giving them out. The two were old, but they did this heavy work day in, day out.

When one of them was asked what kind of life he had, he smiled and said, “Oh, it’s a beautiful life! I sure am thankful G-d gives me the strength to do what I have to do each day. I really enjoy giving out water to the people in this village. Imagine if I didn’t bring them water! What sort of a life would they have?”

When the other water carrier, who did exactly the same job, was asked how his life was, he sighed, “just awful! What do you think? Can’t you see how hard I have to work? I haven’t got the strength to carry all these buckets, which seem to weigh a ton, every single day! And I don’t see why the people can’t go and get their own water! Why does an old man like me have to do all this work?”

The first man’s whole life was centered on kindness. That is how a couple should behave: with kindness to each other. Then G-d will show His kindness to them.


Adapted from “Two Halves Of A Whole” by Rabbi Yirmiyohu & Tehilla Abramov. Available at


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