Wednesday, June 29, 2005


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Wouldn’t it be so much easier to go through life if we could all get along? There is so much needless and senseless strife; we’d all be so much better off if we could rid ourselves of it. Acrimony saps our strength and energy. It turns us into bitter people, derailing us from our goals and from positive accomplishments.

Yet, wherever we find ourselves, in every age and in every society, we find machlokes wreaking havoc.

Really now, why can’t we all get along? What is it that fuels strife between us?

The classic example of a machlokes that bore poisonous fruit for everyone it touched is the feud instigated by Korach. A brilliant man, a leader of Israel, he challenged Moshe Rabbeinu’s authority and demanded for himself a higher position. In the pursuit of his goal, he was prepared to destroy the entire Klal Yisroel and almost did.

A true demagogue, armed with a forked tongue, honed rhetorical skills and manipulative guile, he succeeded in turning the Sanhedrin and many others against Moshe and Aharon.

People fell for his propaganda. Without giving his ideas much thought, they bought into them and fell into lockstep behind him.

Talis shekoolo techeiles, cheder malei Seforim… Korach’s warped reasoning persuaded scores of people. How is it possible? Would such arguments convince you? Were the people who were sucked in any less intelligent than you or me?

A deeper look at Korach’s rationale uncovers the moral rot at the heart of the dispute—an exaggerated sense of self worth, an ego out of control. Korach and his rebels claimed that the entire community was holy and Moshe and Aharon had usurped too much power for themselves. Korach thought the Kehuna should rightfully be his.

So from one side of his mouth he agitated that there was no need for Moshe and Aharon’s leadership while from the other he sought the lofty privileges of Aharon’s Kehuna for himself.

He succeeded in attracting a significant number of people to his cause. Each person saw some personal advantage in joining the machlokes. All were blind to the certainty that Korach was doomed to fail in his uprising against two brothers handpicked by Hashem for their roles.

Everyone in Korach’s edah assumed that were Korach to win, their own secret ambitions would be realized as well.

It seems to defy understanding. How was it possible that anyone would think that Korach was right? Yetzias mitzrayim; maamad har sinai; the eigel; the sorry episode of the meragilim; the punishment of Nadav and Avihu; the incident with Miriam speaking loshon harah about Moshe had all happened in front of their very eyes. They were not tales that had been reported secondhand, they were profound real-life experiences for every one of the dor hamidbar. How could they ignore all that had transpired under the leadership of Moshe and Aharon and think they would earn Divine approval?

The answer lies in the extraordinary power of machlokes to twist the logic and thinking of otherwise intelligent people. They begin arguing over an issue and the disagreement rapidly escalates beyond their control until they are clashing over everything, with the original bone of contention long forgotten. People join in and choose sides. The dispute degenerates and the thirst for victory soon outweighs good sense and behavior.

People often jump on the bandwagon expecting to personally benefit from the broader campaign. They are, more often than not, in for a surprise because when and if their guy wins, he usually dumps them by the wayside.

But their ego deludes them into thinking they are too valuable to be discarded. They see themselves destined for greatness if they follow their side until the end.

If they were able to realistically take stock of their own abilities and purpose in this world they would never have become enmeshed in the machlokes to begin with. Their own daily battles, successes and defeats would keep them wholly engaged, with no time to seek diversions.

While there is always room for legitimate debate and at times machlokes, that is only when the dispute follows the pattern of a machlokes Hillel v’Shamai, each side arguing a point leshaim shomayim, and not for his own personal glory. In a machlokes leshaim shomayim, the parties actually seek a common goal—the truth.

Chazal say that sometimes talmidei chachomim become so engaged in Talmudic debate that throughout the exchange they act as if they were enemies, but by the time they leave the bais medrash they love each other.

That is because they are not really enemies; they are wrangling with each other in an effort to arrive at the true understanding of a Halacha. They each care so deeply about the truth that they are unable to tolerate the other’s misconception and misunderstanding of the peshat.

They remain in the bais medrash, each trying desperately to convince the other of the proper way to analyze the Gemorah. They are united in their love of Torah. They do not leave until they are sure they have arrived at the proper conclusion and understanding of the Gemorah. They embrace, a smile breaks out across their faces. “Boruch Hashem, yagata umatzasah,” that smile exclaims.“We finally understand the peshat.”

The new insights each one has given the other in understanding Torah is what engenders love between them.

In a machlokes like Korach’s there was no concern for the truth. Neither he nor his followers were after the truth, they were after kavod and titles. People who are driven to self-aggrandizement and utilize every opportunity to blow up an already inflated ego are doomed to fail. They ignore the facts; they fail to perceive that their arguments are fatally flawed.

What is plainly obvious to everyone else escapes them, they are so entwined in their pursuit of personal gain they can not see the obvious pitfalls before them. They stumble, fall and are doomed to be defeated.

The wife of On ben Peles was an outsider and as such, she had nothing to gain from the machlokes and was able to correctly perceive the facts on the ground. She had no illusions that her station in life would rise on account of Korach’s victory and thus allowed the truth to guide her. Ultimately, her perception of the truth saved her husband from the fate of the wicked edah.

Let us remember that sheker drives machlokes. In a world of falsehood, in the almah d’shikrah, in order to avoid improper machlokes, we have to seek out the truth and pursue it. We have to make friends with the truth; we have to side with the truth and always champion those in its camp. If we are able to ignore the barbs of those blinded by hate, conceit, corruption and falsehood, we will triumph and eventually our cause will triumph.

If truth is our goal and we remain loyal to it, even when that means swimming upstream and against the tide, we will reach safe calm waters. The storm will blow over, the sun of victory and righteousness will shine upon those who remain loyal to the causes of truth and Torah.

If the truth is what inspires us to act, we will never meet the fate of Korach and his followers. If ever we have the need to fight evil and enter into a machlokes lesheim shamayim, we will have a kiyum and not become consumed with bitterness and dissension. If we know our station and mission in life we will not fall for the temptations of a Korach, no matter what inducements he promises us.

Getting along peacefully with one another would be a natural by-product of working in unison and harmony for the common good, according to the Torah’s dictates. But it requires us to keep our ego in check and to restrain the urge to inject our own pettiness into a given situation. Disagreements will then be temporary, cushioned by brotherhood and mutual commitment to one another.

One way to get there if we haven’t yet reached that darga, is by taking advantage of the minhag of saying Pirkei Avos between Pesach and Rosh Hashanah. Let’s not just say it, let’s learn it mishna by mishna, perek by perek, week after week.

Let us absorb the wisdom of Pirkei Avos and model its lessons at home and in our dealings with others, and give our children — who are far more influenced by the way we behave than by the speeches we make — a winning chance to create a more harmonious and nobler society.


Blogger yehuda said...

This is truly fascinating - How can you dare talk about machlokes when you are the master of it. You time and time again incited machloket and controversy around the metzizah bapeh issue and Rabbi Tendler. If you truly had any love of your brotherhood, you would have found a better way to get invovled. You used your newspaper as a personal tool to be embarass and villify a gadol and to support a man/mohel based on nothing other than your own opinions- not the facts. Don't you see the hipocrasy in your blog- machloket is something you have mastered and seem to thrive on.

8:56 AM  

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