Weekly Torah Commentary — Korach June 22, 2012

Korach, cousin of Moses, a leader among the people, considered a righteous and upright man, gathered a significant number of others around him and as this week’s reading begins, he challenges the authority of Moses, saying, “Why do you exalt yourself about Hashem’s people?”

Just last week we read that Hashem considered Moses to be the “most humble man in all the earth.” How strange, then, that so soon afterward, his own cousin accuses him of pride and ego. What’s really going on here?

Korach began his challenge by saying that all of Hashem’s people are holy and that Hashem is in their midst. Both of those declarations are TRUE. So far, so good. It was when he proceeded to challenge Moses’ authority that he went wrong. In reality, it was not Moses whom he challenged, but Hashem Himself who had clearly called and appointed Moses. The bottom line is that Korach was jealous, envious and wanted a position he did not have.

This account brings to mind the struggle between Cain and Abel in the very beginning of the Torah. Cain was jealous of Abel as Korach was jealous of Moses and Aaron. If you look back to Bresheit/Genesis 4, you’ll see that Hashem tried to comfort Cain but Cain was not to be comforted.
Moses also tried to calm Korach and reason with him but to no avail.

Remarkably we notice that in both cases, the “earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up…”
after they opened their mouths in negative speech towards their fellows. Therein lies some serious meditation material for all of us.

In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) we read: ‘Any disagreement that is for the sake of heaven will endure, but any disagreement not for the sake of heaven will not endure. What is a dispute for the sake of Heaven? The arguments between Hillel and Shammai. What is a dispute not for the sake of Heaven? The arguement of Korach and his company against Moses. (5:20)

While some religions discourage questioning and debating, Judaism affords great value and respect to the argumentative, debating process. An argument for the “sake of heaven” is one in which the two or more parties are earnestly seeking Truth. Why then does it say that it will endure? One would think it should come to resolution in a reasonable time.

The Torah is an eternal document, divine in origin. Its study will never end. Regardless of how much we think we know, there is always so much more to learn. Therefore, the discussions, the debates, the arguments even, regarding its surface as well as its deeper meanings will continue without end.

By contrast, the arguments that arise from egotistical motives, like that of Korach, end quickly. Korach’s problem was that he turned a profound truth (Hashem’s people are holy and He is in their midst) into a ‘political platform’ for his own campaign to unseat Moses. This kind of behavior will always end in disaster.

It is from these thoughts that we gain understanding of a curious passage in the Talmud. In Eruvin 13b we find these words: “this and that are the words of the Living God.” This is the basis for learning to recognize and appreciate that in discussions and debates, in arguments to resolve differences, there are always elements of TRUTH on BOTH sides of the debate. “..this and that are the words of the living God.”

Whenever we find ourselves in a conflict or discussion, are we able to truly listen to the other person, put ourselves in their shoes, so to speak, and strive to understand the perspective they bring to the debate? That does not mean we must suppress our own perspective but making a diligent effort to understand the opposing view broadens our horizon, opens our mind to learning something new and paves the way for mature reconciliation and cooperation, even in the midst of diverse opinion.

How many marriages might be saved with the application of this perspective? How many friendships?

In tune with Torah this week: Go into Google and type in “Ten Commandments of Arguing” and use that printout as material for meditation this Shabbat. Conflict in life is inevitable; how we handle it demonstrates our spiritual maturity – or lack thereof – to ourselves and to those around us. May we all grow in this area.

Shabbat Shalom

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