Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 12 June 2021 / 2 Tamuz 5781

Sleep On It

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
Library Library Library

It seems that there is a Biblical source for “sleeping on it” — the decisions that need some thoughtful reflection and time and could benefit from the passage of night before they are made.

Korach and his cohorts — Datan, Aviram, and On ben Pelet — stirred an uprising accusing Moshe and Aharon of misappropriating the leadership for themselves, when, in reality, the entire community is holy. Two hundred and fifty men joined the rebellion. Moshe heard their message and fell upon his face. His words to them: Let morning come, and then G-d will make known who is His and who is the holy one… Whoever He will choose, He will allow him to come near to Him [serve as High Priest] (Bamidbar 16:5) The test that Moshe devised would mean that each of the men risked their lives, knowing that if they participate, and are not selected as priests, they would die.

G-d did not need the night to think it over, and neither did Moshe. But Moshe wanted Korach and his followers to sleep on it. Well, not exactly to sleep — but to use the nighttime to reflect before taking action. Since the dispute would be decided by the destruction of the rebels, they were to be given time to come to their senses, particularly in the quiet and seclusion of the night, when everyone returns to the company of their own family and is free to commune with himself. There, at night, in his home, he is removed from the influence of inciting companions. Day is a time for activity, but night is a time for study and reflection. This is symbolized by the fact that the oil of the ner tamid — representing wisdom and Torah — was to remain lit from “evening until morning,” during the time most suited for contemplation.

Moshe also wanted to utilize this time to remonstrate with those who had gone astray, and he spends the rest of the day attempting to persuade them. He approached Korach, and separately approached Datan and Aviram. Moshe understood that Korach had two motives. One, he was standing up for the rights of his tribe of Levi, which he felt were violated by the preference given to Aharon. Second, he sought the honor of the priesthood for himself, a motive that he disguised as an argument for equal rights for all. Datan and Aviram, on the other hand, primarily opposed Moshe’s political leadership. Thus, Moshe’s messages of persuasion were tailored to each. The hope was that, upon reflection, the men would come to their senses.

There was a fourth rabble-rouser listed in the verse, who we never hear about again — On ben Pelet. According to the Sages, when he was removed from the influence of the others, in the privacy of his own tent, his wife persuaded him to give up the rebellion. Similarly, the children of Korach, at the moment of decision, righted themselves and were spared the fate decreed upon their father.

Even in the description of Creation, the morning comes after the night — And it was evening, and it was morning, is the refrain after each day of Creation. The word for morning, boker, is related to the word meaning to distinguish (l’vaker), for it is the time where the outlines of things emerge and it is possible to distinguish one thing from the other. Perhaps this applies not only in the physical dimension, but also in the realm of thought — things can become clear only after a nighttime reflection, removed from the influences of the day. The contemplation that night affords can often clarify complexities and allow our minds and hearts to tease apart the logical from the illogical and the good motives from the bad motives — emerging with clearly defined convictions and conclusions in the boker.

  • Sources: Commentary, Bamidbar 18:5, Shemot 27:20-21, Ber. 1:5

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