And the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with sorcery in their hands; and they came unto Bilaam, and spoke unto him the words of Balak. (Bamidbar 22:7 )
Regarding the wife of On Ben Peles, the medrash quotes the verse, “chochmas nashim bonsa beisa” – the wisdom of women builds their house. The medrash relates that when On Ben Peles came home, excited about the argument between Moshe and Korach, she commented, “What is the difference to you? Either Moshe will be the leader or Korach will be the leader, but either way, you won’t be!” It seems to me that this is a very simple calculation. What was the actual wisdom involved in her response?
I recall many years ago watching a debate between two people about a specific news item. Each one was furiously protecting their version of the facts. It was clear to me that neither of these people were present to witness the actual news incident – rather they were relying on accounts of the incident said over by others. After verifying this, I then asked both of them the obvious, “So why are you both fighting about something which neither of you is sure you know anything?”
This may be a humorous incident when we are discussing others and their follies. However, some of us may be guilty of the same kind of behavior. The subject that I would like to focus on here is a step closer to reality in most of our lives. When we are in doubt as to what to do in a certain situation, sometimes we surge forward and hit an obstacle. We then continue and hit another obstacle. Often, because we invested, we feel a need to continue pushing forward to save grace and to show that we had made a correct decision. I am sure we are all aware that this is a philosophy behind keeping gamblers at the tables in casinos.
There are those in the world of Shalom Bayis who say not to go to sleep while in the middle of an argument. Though there are times that it is worthwhile to settle things before they take root, sometimes a break in the action, such as waking up with a new frame of mind, can give a person a perspective to rethink that which was done and change course.
It seems to me that the wife of On Ben Peles understood that if she would argue the subject of Moshe and Korach, there would be no chance of changing her husband’s mind. So, she reframed the situation in a way that they did not have to discuss the issue head-on. This is indeed wisdom!
The Da’as Zakeinim baalei hatosafos says: (22:8)
“The emissaries of Moav spent the night with Bilaam.” This raises the question of why didn’t the elders of Midian remain there also? When they heard that Bilaam was going to consult with the Gd of the Israelites about how to conduct himself, they reasoned that a father (Gd as Israel’s father-figure) does not hate his son, so what possible answer could Bilaam expect from his asking permission to curse Gd’s son? They therefore left.”
Rabbi Zeichik quotes this Da’as Zekeim to remind us that it is worthwhile when we start doing something with exuberance to take a break, rethink it, and decide again if it is worth going forward.
The story is told that when Reb Chaim Velozhiner wanted to open what is known today as a “classical yeshiva”, he discussed it with the Vilna Gaon. The Vilna Gaon discouraged him. Reb Chaim could not get the idea out of his head and a few years later he broached the subject again with the Vilna Gaon. This time, the Vilna Gaon endorsed it enthusiastically. Reb Chaim asked him, “Why are you for it now, but previously you discouraged it?” The Vilna Gaon answered, “This time you were thinking about it for a few years before you asked the question.”