Datan and Aviram, on the other hand, continued to give Moses a hard time, but apparently his reaction was without rancour. He asked them “to come up”, i.e. to appear before him and discuss the matter. They retorted, “We will not come up!” (Num. 16:12). Moses felt there was room for negotiation; Datan and Aviram refused to negotiate.
This it was, says the Midrash, that sealed their fate. They sensed that they might give way – at least to some extent – if they sat and spoke with Moses. Fearing that they might end up making a compromise, and considering compromise a sign of weakness, they showed themselves to be mere mischief-makers, unable to contemplate a peaceful solution. As a result, they lost their place in history.
Had they been more amenable, tradition would have praised their common sense. It would have said that everybody makes mistakes, and the mark of a person who is morally strong is the ability to say or at least imply, “I was wrong”.
Overcoming your mistakes takes nerve, courage and humility, but Datan and Aviram were short of all three.