This week’s Parsha deals with one of the greatest disputes in Jewish history. The rebellion of Korach against the authority of Moshe. Korach felt that he should have been the Kohein Gadol, rather than Aharon. Korach claimed that Moshe kept all the honors for his immediate family. Needless to say, everything that Moshe did was by the word of G-d. His appointment of Aharon as the Kohein Gadol was also by the word of G-d. But, Korach felt slighted. So, he organized a large rally against Moshe. Korach’s group was composed of great individuals. The Torah refers to them as “princes of the congregation, men of name.” They were distinguished people. Yet, they were all wrong for rebelling against Moshe. As a result of their rebellion, all of Korach’s men, plus their families were wiped out. There were a couple of exceptions: One exception was the sons of Korach, who saw their father’s foolishness and withdrew from his rebellion. Another exception was On ben Peles. He is mentioned in the beginning of the Parsha as one of the leaders in the rebellion. However, his wife convinced him to get out of the rebellion.
But, the main idea in the Parsha is the dispute of Korach against Moshe. The Chafetz Chaim quotes the Midrash “See how terrible is a dispute. The heavenly Court only punishes people from the age of 20 . . . A Sanhedrin only punishes people from the age of 13 . . . but in the dispute of Korach even babies were swallowed up by the earth.” Dispute is destructive.
The Chafetz Chaim also quotes the Rabbis: “A dispute in one’s house, the house will be destroyed . . . a dispute in shul, the shul will fall apart . . . a dispute in a city, will lead to murder . . .” Dispute, other than trying to figure out an interpretation in the Torah or in Halacha, really has no redeeming factors. The Rabbis statement, that dispute leads to destruction, has come true time and again throughout our history. Dispute should be avoided at all costs. People get hurt, communities get hurt and, in the end, there are only losses, not gains.
This is especially true when most disputes have selfish objectives, rather than the needs of the Jewish people in mind. When raising an objection to the behavior of another person or community, what is the real intention of the person who is causing the stir? Is his/her objection for the sake of G-d or is it for one’s own aggrandizement?
We find a phrase in Pirkei Avos, “any dispute that is for the sake of Heaven will endure, while a dispute that is not for the sake of Heaven will not endure. What is a dispute for the sake of Heaven? The disputes of Hillel and Shammai. What is a dispute that is not for the sake of Heaven? The dispute of Korach and his men.”
Hillel and Shammai argued in order to determine the halacha. There was no personal animosity between them. Even their students – who had numerous disputes – had a harmonious relationship. They ate at each other’s homes and there were marriages among their families.
On the other hand, Korach and his men argued for their own personal gain. They did not act for the sake of heaven, despite their righteous pronouncements. Moshe did argue for the sake of Heaven. Therefore, his name is not mentioned as part of the dispute that is not for the sake of Heaven.
The price of a dispute is too heavy to pay. We have seen that lesson too often in our history. Korach, just being one example that the Torah brings to show us its ill effects. We are not obligated to agree with everything. However, before we raise a contentious issue, we should think about our motives. Are they destructive as Korach and his men or constructive as Hillel and Shammai? It is a lesson to think about before a problem is caused.