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23.06.2020 17:43    Comments: 0    Categories: Weekly Parashah      Tags: torah shabbat parashah bamidbar korach  

Dissension, Differences of Opinion, and Peace


Korah’s name has become a watchword, for good reason.  As soon as his name is mentioned, one immediately thinks of dissension.  Indeed, it was because of his dissent that the Torah calls him and his followers “wicked men” (Num. 16:26).

In the affliction of dissension in which Korah and his company were caught up we find all the indications of a disease.  Dissension, indeed, is like a disease, and even worse; it is an infectious disease.  A close look at this week’s reading provides a characteristic example:  Korah dissented against Moses out of personal motives, being jealous of Moses and Aaron, but very quickly he managed to recruit a group of people around himself, an entire community, with himself at their head.  His rebellion was organized according to all the tactics of modern demagogy.  Two hundred and fifty “chieftains of the community…men of repute” aided and abetted him in his “holy war,” as it were.  When a person becomes infected with the disease of dissension, his fever rises, his blood boils and his temperament gets fired up.  This emotional fever makes him ready to impute fault to his fellow with whom he has a difference, speaking evil of him, besmirching and slandering him, and propagating lies about him.

Differences of opinion

Every person and every group of people have their own particular opinions to which they subscribe.  Wherever people live together there will clearly by differences of opinion among them, to a lesser or greater extent.  If we were to get into an argument and quarrel over every difference of opinion, there would be no end to contention and fighting, and our lives would turn into an unbroken chain of personal battles.

However, since we live in society, if we do not wish to embitter our own lives and the lives of our fellows, we have no choice but to be flexible to one another and refrain from dissension.  We must remember the important principle:  “Just as one person’s face is unlike another’s, so their views are not alike; rather, each and every one has an opinion of his own” (Numbers Rabbah, 21.2).

Therefore, since there is no chance that all human beings will give up on their views and begin to all hold the same opinion, we must accustom ourselves to living together with others who hold different views from ourselves, whether we find it comfortable or whether we find it displeasing.

The Talmud contains many instances of Sages disagreeing with one another on a point of halakhah, yet they did not reach the point of contention; rather they attempted to clarify that which needed clarification.  Even if they argued impassionedly and zealously over the meaning of the halakhah, in their personal lives they remained faithful to one another and loved one another:

Although the House of Shammai and the House of Hillel were in disagreement…the House of Shammai did not, nevertheless, abstain from marrying women of the families of the House of Hillel, nor did the House of Hillel refrain from marrying those of the House of Shammai.  This is to teach you that they showed love and friendship towards one another, thus putting into practice the Scriptural text (Zech. 8:19): Love truth and peace. (Yevamot14b)

Quarrels and dissension are indicative of human weakness.  But there is far more than human weakness here, and therefore a person must work hard with himself to avoid this:

Bar Kappara said:  Great is peace.  If celestial beings among whom there is neither jealousy, nor hatred, nor rivalry, nor strife, nor lawsuits, nor dissension, nor the evil eye, had need, nevertheless of peace, as it is written, He makes peace in His high places (Job 25:3), how much more do earthly beings, among whom all those dispositions exist, [have need of special blessing that peace reign among them]. (Leviticus Rabbah, Margaliyot ed., 9.9)

Justice, truth and peace

Without peace, the world cannot survive.  Peace is the basis and foundation of the life of society throughout the world.

Tractate Avot (1.18) says:

Rabban Simeon ben Gamaliel says:  The world stands on three things:  on justice, on truth, and on peace, for it is said, “Render true and perfect justice in your gates” (Zech. 8:16).

One could live in a land that is bountiful and affluent; but if there is no peace in the land in which you live, the rest of the fine things have no value.  Thus it is said in Sifra (Be-Hukotai 1.1):

Should you say:  Here is food, and drink…[i.e., we have all that we need, so what are we lacking?  But] if one does not have peace, one does not have anything.  As we learn from Scripture, “I will grant peace in the land” indicates that peace outweighs everything else.  Moreover, it says, “I make peace and create evil” (Isa. 45:7), indicating that peace outweighs everything.

Seeking peace

Leviticus Rabbah (Margaliyot ed., 9.9) says:

Hezekiah said:  Great is peace, for with all other precepts…if a precept comes to your hand, you are bound to perform it, but if not, you are not bound to perform it.  In this case, however, it says seek peace and pursue it (Ps. 34:15), seek it for your own place and follow it to another place.

Those who strive to bring peace between one person and another are assured a place in the World to Come.  This is told us in Tractate Ta`anit (22a):

Rabbi Beroka Hoza`ah used to frequent the market at Be Lapat, where Elijah often appeared to him.  Once he asked [the prophet], “Is there anyone in this market who has a share in the world to come?”  He replied, “No.”  Meanwhile…two men passed by and [Elijah] remarked, “These two have a share in the world to come.”  Rabbi Beroka then approached and asked them, “What is your occupation?”  They replied, “We are jesters.  When we see men depressed we cheer them up; furthermore, when we see two people quarrelling we strive hard to make peace between them.”

Is there a wise woman here?

Bringing about peace between one’s neighbors and friends is obligatory, even if it involves some unpleasantness.  The Jerusalem Talmud (Sotah 1.4) tells of Rabbi Meir subjecting himself to humiliation for the sake of bringing peace between a husband and wife.  He was even prepared to depart from the truth for the purpose of bringing about peace:

Rabbi Meir used to sit and teach on Sabbath nights in the synagogue of Hamat [near Tiberias].  A certain woman used to come listen to his discourse.  Once his discourse was extended, and she waited until he had finished discoursing.  By the time she came home she found that the Sabbath candle had already gone out, it was so late.  Her husband asked her, “Where have you been so long?”  She said to him, “I was sitting and listening to a discourse.”  He said, “You shall not enter my house until you go and spit in the face of the teacher.”

Rabbi Meir, having seen by the Holy Spirit, knew what had happened to the woman and pretended to have a pain in his eyes.  He said, “Is there anyone among you who is learned in the magical curing of eyes?”  Her neighbors said to her, “Now go and spit in his face and your husband will let you come back home.”  When she sat before him, she withdrew from him.  She said to him, “Rabbi, I am not learned in the magical curing of eyes” [because she did not want to lie].  He said to her, “Nevertheless, spit in my face seven times and I will be cured.”  She did as he requested and spat in his face seven times.  His disciples said to him, “Rabbi, is the Torah to be thus dishonored?!  Had you said, we would have brought him here and beat him with a stick while he was tied to a pillar, and he would have given up and been reconciled with his wife.”

He [Rabbi Meir] said to them:  “Is it not enough for Meir to be like his Maker?  If Scripture can instruct that the Holy Name, written in holiness, be erased in water in order to establish peace between a husband and wife, all the more so the honor of Rabbi Meir.”

United as one

Not only between one person and another must there not be dissension.  The commandment of peace and unitedness also applies to the public at large, with all its factions and parties.  With good will, one can live together in love and peace, even when there are differences of opinion.

Thus it says in Tractate Yevamot (14a):  “Ve lo titgodedu – you shall not form separate factions.”

Indeed, complete redemption of the Jewish people will only come when there is peace between one person and another, as in the words of the midrash(TanhumaNitzavim 1):

When you are all united as one, as it says (Deut. 4:4), “You [who held fast to the Lord your G‑d] are all alive today.”  Thus it is in the world:  If a person takes a bundle of reeds, can he possibly break them all at once?  But if he takes them one by one, even an infant can break them.  Thus you find that the Jews will not be redeemed until they all unite as one.

Translated by Rachel Rowen

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