Parshas Korach: Ruination Born of Strife

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Korach, Korach – a first cousin to Moshe and Aharon – begins an uprising against the leadership of his illustrious cousins, Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon ha’Kohen.  Not satisfied with being “only” a Levi, and wanting more kavod (honor) and gedula (greatness) for himself, the rebellion begins. 

Wholly unsuccessful in his attempt to usurp their power, ultimately, the ground opens up and swallows him (and his accomplices) alive.  As for the two hundred and fifty men who joined his rebellion, they are consumed by a fire (Bamidbar 16).

Once again, the story of Korach, and his downfall, remind us of the power of Chazal’s words: Who is a rich man?  One who is satisfied with his portion (Avos 4:1).  When one is so busy obsessing over what his friend (or cousin) has, and what he lacks, such a person will never be satisfied or content.  Machlokes (quarrel and strife) will never be far behind him, as he looks for ways to take power (or possessions) from others.

Hence, it is not for naught that the Sages further teach: כָּל מַחֲלֹקֶת שֶׁהִיא לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם, סוֹפָהּ לְהִתְקַיֵּם. וְשֶׁאֵינָהּ לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם, אֵין סוֹפָהּ לְהִתְקַיֵּם. אֵיזוֹ הִיא מַחֲלֹקֶת שֶׁהִיא לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם, זוֹ מַחֲלֹקֶת הִלֵּל וְשַׁמַּאי. וְשֶׁאֵינָהּ לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם, זוֹ מַחֲלֹקֶת קֹרַח וְכָל עֲדָתוֹ – Any machlokes that is for the sake of Heaven, in the end will endure.  And any that is not for the sake of Heaven, will not in the end endure.  Which is a disagreement that is for the sake of Heaven?  This is the disagreement of Hillel and Shammai.  And which was a quarrel that was not for the sake of Heaven?  This is the quarrel of Korach and his assembly (Avos 5:17).

How often does man focus on, covet, and yearn for, his friend’s life, rather than focusing on the good in his own?  It brought ruination to Korach, it brought machlokes to Klal Yisrael, and it is a sobering reminder of the importance of appreciating what we do have, and utilizing our own talents and capabilities to the fullest.

Commenting on the teaching in Pirkei Avos regarding disagreement for the sake of Heaven and quarrel that is not, R’ Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb writes, “From this passage, it is apparent that our sages do not categorically oppose dispute, debate and argument.  Rather, everything depends upon the motive.  If the motive is a noble one, ‘for the sake of heaven,’ then debate is not only tolerated but is considered valuable.  If the motive is ignoble, and certainly if it is merely contentious, it is strongly condemned.”

R’ Dr. Weinreb quotes a fascinating Medrash, which expounds upon the word for quarrel or strife: מחלקת – machlokes

“An example of such a harsh condemnation is to be found in the Medrash on this parsha.  The Medrash points out how each of the letters comprising the word מחלקת represents a different vile trait.  Thus, the first letter, mem, stands for makka, wound.  The second letter ches, stands for charon, wrath.  The letter lamed begins the word lakui, smitten.  The letter kuf represents klala, curse.  And finally, the tav stands for tachlis, which is often translated as goal or objective, but in this context means a final tragic ending.”

How amazing is lashon ha’kodesh and the teachings of our Sages!  Embedded within the word מחלקת – which comes from the root ח.ל.ק, to divide, or apportion, since מחלקת causes a divide between members of Am Yisrael – is an acronym that reminds us how very dangerous division and strife are to our very existence as a unified people. 

Continues R’ Dr. Weinreb, “An objection has been raised to the criterion ‘for the sake of Heaven’ as a legitimate motive for dispute.  Surely men have been motivated to commit horrible evil because they believed they were acting ‘for the sake of heaven’.  One of the strongest arguments raised by free-thinkers against religion is the fact that so much blood has been spilled over the millennia by people who were convinced that they were performing G-d’s will. 

“It is to counter such an objection that the rabbis gave us Hillel and Shammai as appropriate examples of מחלקת that is truly l’shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven.  The disagreements between these two sages and their disciples were characterized by tolerance and friendship.  So much so that that Gemara records more than one incident when Hillel came around to Shammai’s way of thinking, and vice versa.

“The disputes between Hillel and Shammai endure to this very day.  Although we generally rule in accordance with the opinion of the former, we carefully attended to the arguments of the latter.  I, for one, am convinced that we do so to perpetuate the attitudes of attentiveness and harmony, which both Hillel and Shammai advocated and enacted.

“Students of Torah must not only study the content of these ancient disputes; they must learn to re-create the atmosphere that prevailed among the disputants, one of civility and mutual respect, and a willingness to concede one’s original position in order to achieve the truth” (The Person in the Parasha, p.449-451).

When one is content with his lot, and satisfied with his portion, he has self respect, as well as respect for others.  This will lead to a disagreement for the sake of Heaven, for the sake of Truth, for the sake of sanctifying G-d’s Name in this world.  But when one lacks self-respect, and spends his life chasing after others – as did Korach – this invariably leads to strife and ruination. 

As we enter the month of Tamuz, and the mourning of Bein Ha’Metzarim (The Three Mournful Weeks between 17 Tamuz and 9 Av) we would do well to remember this lesson.  Our Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred.  Surely this includes מחלקת that was not for the sake of Heaven.  If we have any hope of rectifying the errors of our past, let us strive to ensure that all of our interactions bring honor and glory to Hashem, and to His people. 

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,


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