Rabbi's Corner

Korach – Rabbi Ismach – June 11, 2017

How to Have a Machlokes

Although he leads an infamous rebellion against Moshe, Korach is memorialized by Chazal mostly as a Bal Machlokes.

16:1-3: And Korach son of Yitzhar, son of Kohas, son of Levi separated himself, with Dasan and Aviram, sons of Eliav, and On, son of Peles, the offspring of Reuven. And they stood before Moshe and with 250 men from Bnei Yisrael, leaders of the assembly, those summoned for meeting, men of renown. They gathered together against Moshe and against Aharon and said to them, “It is too much for you! For the entire assembly – all of them – are holy and Hashem is among them; why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of Hashem?” He raises questions about a garment made of Techales and a room full of mezuzas, saying they don’t need additional appendages. He challenges Moshe’s leadership.

17:4,5: And Elazar the Kohen took the copper fire-pans that the consumed ones had offered and hammered them out as a covering for the Mizbeach. As a reminder to Bnei Yisrael, so that no alien who is not of the offspring of Aharon shall draw near to bring up the smoke of incense before Hashem, that he not be like Korach and his assembly, as Hashem spoke about him through Moshe. Rather than discuss Korach being one to undermine leadership, the lesson that Chazal discuss is Korach is the example of one who stirs up controversy. Gemorrah Sanhedrin: from here we learn not to be involved with Machlokes – that one who does this is violating a negative commandment – the lesson of Korach is about Machlokes.

Mishne in Avos: All machlokes that is Leshaim Shamayim will last; one that is not Leshaim Shamayim will not last. What is a machlokes Leshaim Shamayim? Those between Hillel and Shamai. One that is not Leshaim Shamayim is that of Korach and his assembly. It doesn’t say Korach and Moshe, which implies that Korach couldn’t get along with his own assembly – it is not a principled argument. It was all about Korach’s issues.

Rabbeinu Yonah: will a machlokes that lasts be a good thing or not? We would hope they would be resolved? It means that these parties who are arguing over holy and good things, their relationship will last forever – they will sustain themselves as disputants and will continue as colleagues who will argue about different issues; they will have nice long lives discussing issues. But if not Leshaim Shamayim, they will not live on; machlokes will eat them up and they will not live another day. The Mishne seems to apply that even if one person is arguing not Leshaim Shamayim it is considered a bad thing, as we see with the story of Korach vs Moshe, who was clearly arguing Leshaim Shamayim. Korach doesn’t have a disputant – he is disputing the facts, not the person.

Rav Ovadia MiBartenura: it is not that the machlokes will last, but the disputants will last, as we saw with the houses of Hillel and Shamai. Korach’s family was mostly lost. If the goal of a machlokes is to figure out the truth, they will reach that goal. But one that is not Leshaim Shamayim is just wanting to win, to be in control; that as an end will not last; the reason Korach is an example of one that is not Leshaim Shamayim is that Korach just sought Kavod – he was not searching for the truth in an issue of Torah – it was about his personal aggrandizement he pursued. He wanted to be vindicated and win – that is not Leshaim Shamayim.

Rav Matisyahu HaYitzhari: it is inevitable that people who investigate things will come to debate – one person is smarter, one understands it another way, one reacts differently. Even though each of us will offer appropriate arguments and one argument will not necessary sway the other and carry the day, the machlokes is not about the positions – it is about the intent. If everyone is there to investigate and find the truth, they will all agree and there will be brotherhood, and maybe Hashem will give them the correct answer. But not if one desires just to show how smart he is – this was Korach’s goal – he did not want to find the truth, he just wanted to lord over Moshe. He started with good questions, about everyone being holy and why does Moshe hold himself at a higher level. It was a good point, and his argument might be right – why should there be a priestly caste, a special group? Had he really been interested in an answer, it would have been fine. But that was not his intent – he wanted to bring down the Kehuna. Hillel and Shamai are the reverse – it is Bais Hillel and Shamai that argue all over the Talmud; but Hillel and Shamai, the men, only actually argued in three places; later on there were accusations about their students sometimes being carried away. Korach was right in asking a very good question, but he did not ask it for a good reason. One must ask what your end game is in a machlokes. Korach might be right on the issues he raised, but he was ultimately wrong because of his intent.

Mishne in Yevamos: Bais Shamai and Hillel lived very different halachik lives.

Gemorrah in Eruvin: Rabbi Ava said in the name of Shmuel: for three years Bais Shamai and Hillel argued, with each insisting that Halachah was according to them; a Bas Kol came out and said they were both right, but the Halachah was according to Bais Hillel – they needed a final decision of how to practice. The Gemorrah asks if they were both right, why follow Bais Hillel? Because they were calm and humble; whenever they presented an opinion, they always first quoted the opinion of Bais Shamai with reverence and enthusiasm. But why would this still make Bais Hillel’s opinion the correct one? Bais Shamai actually had sharper people?

Maharal: Why should the Halachah follow Bais Hillel? Just because they lowered themselves by quoting their opponents first, why do we hold like them? It should be the correct, sharper opinion that wins out? These traits actually made Bais Hillel get the opinion right – when one is passionate and fired up, the power of that anger makes him want to hold onto that opinion and it will take him off the path of truth. A person who is not humble wants to be right, and will argue even after realizing the weakness of his position. Therefore, the fact that they would quote Bais Shamai first and be comfortable with that, they had no problem presenting the other opinion, it showed that for them it was not about winning – they wanted to find the truth. That was what Bais Hillel was about. Korach might have had a good argument, but because his intent was negative, he wanted to rule over others, that would not last. Not only is the machlokes of Bais Hillel and Shamai the paradigm of what is good, Hillel is the one we hold like – he holds the other opinion of his opponent to be of value.

Wed, July 26 2017 3 Av 5777