Korach: Overruling Your Objection

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Moses and Aaron’s first cousin Korach is one of the Torah’s villains. He led the most serious challenge to their authority, leading an open revolt.  

 

His actual arguments were not entirely without merit, but he pursued them, say the Rabbis, not “for his sake of Heaven,” but for his own aggrandizement, while claiming to seek the good of the community.  He and his followers were swallowed up by the earth.  

 

The Torah, at Numbers 17:5, admonishes us not to “be like Korach.” The actual context of this statement was a prohibition on anyone other than the descendants of Aaron (i.e., Kohanim) from offering incense on the Altar.  But the Rabbis interpreted this prohibition far more broadly than an illegitimate power grab or a dispute “not for the sake of Heaven.” They felt that the true lesson is to keep far from all disputes, to the extent possible.  (If only I’d known that before deciding to become a lawyer!) 

 

According to the Talmud (Sanhedrin 110a) and Mishnah Brurah (156:40), this Torah verse forbids us to nurture quarrels, to maintain disputes, and to support controversies.  As almost always in Jewish law, this mitzvah is not left to general principles.  We are given specifics to guide us.  Here, briefly, are eight of them, which I quote from Love Your Neighbor by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, who himself cites sources that I list in the written version of this D’var Torah:

 

1) We must keep a distance from disputes. … (they are) the source of many other serious transgressions: unwanted hatred, loshon hora (negative speech about others), r'chilus (telling someone that someone else said a negative thing about them), anger, insults, humiliating words, revenge, grudges, curses, and chilul Hashem (desecration of God's name). (Shmiras Haloshon 1:15). Quarreling can become a passion. No matter what the topic may be, a quarrelsome person enjoys making retorts. He likes to be right always, and to have the last word. He quarrels for the sake of quarreling. Be aware of such a tendency. (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch in From the Wisdom of Mishle, pp. 188-9).  

 

2) One should not even take part in a feud in which one's parents are involved. Because Korach's sons refused to side with their father in his dispute against Moshe, they were saved from being punished along with their father. (Shmiras Haloshon 1:15).  

 

3) It is a very important mitzvah to stop a feud. Do not be discouraged even if you tried to do so and your efforts have been fruitless. There is always the possibility that your next attempt will be successful. (ibid.). 

 

4) If two people quarreled and afterword made peace, neither should later say to the other: "The reason I behaved as I did is because you did this to me." Even if the person saying this does not intend to resume the quarrel, such a remark is apt to rekindle the dispute, since the other person will probably retort, "No, it was your fault." (Orchos Tzadikim, ch. 21). 

 

5) If a person speaks loshon hora and this causes the continuation of a quarrel, he violates this prohibition. (Chofetz Chayim, Introduction, Prohibition 12). 

 

6) If someone insults a person or fails to honor him or her properly, the person should not relate this to his spouse.(Avos D'Reb Noson 7:3). Relating such an incident would be r'chilus and will most likely cause a dispute. (Chofetz Chaim).  

 

7) A person should train his children at a very young age to avoid quarrels. Young children have a tendency to grow angry and fight over trivial matters, and if a parent will not correct this fault, it can easily become ingrained. (Maaneh Rach, pp. 69-70).  

 

8) Very often disputes begin over matters that are entirely irrelevant and insignificant. If you find yourself arguing with someone, ask yourself (and the other person), "Does it really make a difference?"  

 

We certainly can’t expect to avoid all disputes -- and that is not what the Torah teaches.  After all, it says “Justice, justice shall you pursue.”  Pursing justice usually requires creating or continuing a dispute.  (So, it’s okay to become a lawyer after all).  But we should pursue peace whenever possible, and it is possible much more often than most of us realize.  

 

We all have daily opportunities to minimize and avoid disputes.  We can choose to ignore slights and insults, choose not to “stand up for our rights,” choose not to insist that we are right, and choose not to get involved in others’ quarrels.  

 

We can choose not to think or speak ill of others, and choose to give them the benefit of the doubt.  We can let others have the last word, remain silent when we are hot to respond, seek neither vindication nor revenge, and let the constant stream of annoying but unimportant matters pass. We can be more selective in deciding which disputes are truly necessary to pursue justice. 

 

We can be people of peace, constantly striving to increase it in our own lives, and promoting it among others.  We can teach this life-and-peace affirming philosophy to our children and grandchildren. 

 

We can be like Aaron and not be like Korach.

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He who guards his mouth preserves his life
Proverbs 13:3