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Korach(Numbers 16-18)

Pursuit of Peace

A Jewish man is shipwrecked on a desert island. After 10 years he's finally rescued by a passing ship. When the rescuers disembark on the island, they are surprised to find the man has built himself an entire civilization: golf course, restaurant, and two synagogues.

"But since you're here all alone on the island," they asked, "why do you have TWO synagogues?"

"Because," replied the man, pointing to the buildings, "that's the one I go to, and that's the one I don't!"

Korach – What's So Bad?

In this week's Parsha, a terrible dispute erupts amongst the Jewish people. A man named Korach accuses Moses of corruption. Korach then recruits 250 men and stages a full-fledged rebellion. In the end, the earth opens up and swallows Korach and his cohorts alive.

Why such a terrible punishment? Judaism regards quarrelling as one of the gravest sins. Why? Because divisiveness contradicts the essential unity of God. A flower has perfect form and symmetry, the ecosystem functions harmoniously, the colors of a sunset blend perfectly. Quarreling – with its tension, allegations and incriminations – undermines the harmony of creation. (Midrash Bamidbar Rabba 11:7)

In Hebrew, the word for peace, shalom, is derived from the root shalem, which means whole or complete. Peace is not merely the absence of war. Peace is a cooperative, symbiotic relationship, where both parties care for each other, assist each other, and ultimately complete each other.

How to Avoid a Quarrel

We've all been faced with confrontation. It may be a business dispute, or simply jockeying for position at a red light.

So what should we do? The surest way to immediately defuse any conflict is to refuse to participate. Remember: It takes two to argue.

In our Parsha, Moses asks to meet with the provocateurs Datan and Aviram. Moses eagerly pursues peace even though it means the risk of personal humiliation (see Numbers 16:8,12).

The Talmud (Avot 1:12) describes Aaron as the master of pursuing peace. If Aaron saw two people arguing, he would tell each of them that the other admitted his mistake and wants to make up. That way, each party saves face, allowing the dispute to end. How much family dysfunction could be spared with this advice!

Well-Intentioned Argument

The topic of "peace" is a popular one these days. We hear everyone talk about peace in the home, peace with the Arabs, peace in the inner city.

Peace is perhaps the most central theme in Judaism. The words of King David (Psalms 133:1), "How good and pleasant is it for brothers to sit peacefully together," are perhaps the most popular Hebrew song. The Amidah prayer, said three times daily, ends with the word "Shalom." The Grace After Meals ends with the word "Shalom." The Birkat Kohanim (Priestly Blessing) ends with the word "Shalom." The entire Talmud ends with the word "Shalom." As well, the Talmud declares, "Shalom" is one of the Names of God!

But if peace is such an essential Jewish value, then why are Jews always arguing?!

Quarreling should not be confused with well-intentioned controversy. Any student of the Talmud knows that the schools of Hillel and Shammai were always arguing. Yet their respect for one another grew because they knew the disputes were for the purpose of reaching a common understanding. In fact, the Talmud (Yevamot 14b) reports that the children of Hillel and Shammai intentionally married each other to show they were at peace.

The Talmud states: "Just as no two faces are exactly alike, likewise no two opinions are exactly alike." Rabbi Shlomo Eiger explains this in terms of peaceful human relations: The fact that other people have different facial features does not bother me in the slightest. In fact, I am actually glad this is so, because it preserves my uniqueness! So too, I should appreciate the unique perspective that others bring to my life.

The Talmud (Avot 5:20) describes a well-intentioned controversy as that between Hillel and Shammai. A poor-intentioned controversy is that of Korach and his followers, who tried to manipulate others for their own selfish power struggle.

Hammering Out the Truth

Judaism does not object to argument, if it is for the sake of truth. In fact, sincere disputants will ultimately feel love for one another. What's most striking about a yeshiva is that the study partners are always yelling at each other. The forcefulness of their positions engenders not animosity, but rather increased respect!

The Talmud relates a story about the great scholar Rebbe Yochanan and his study partner Reish Lakish. The two learned together for many years, until one day Reish Lakish got sick and died. Rebbe Yochanan was totally distraught over the loss. His students tried to comfort him, saying, "Don't worry, Rebbe. We'll find you a new study partner – the most brilliant man in town."

A few weeks later, Rebbe Yochanan was seen walking down the street, totally depressed. "Rebbe," his students asked. "What's the problem? We sent you a brilliant study partner. Why are you so sad?"

Rebbe Yochanan told them: "This man is indeed a scholar. In fact, he's so brilliant that he can come up with 24 ways to prove that what I'm saying is correct. But when I studied with Reish Lakish, he brought me 24 proofs that what I was saying was wrong. And that's what I miss! The goal of study is not to just have someone agree with me. I want him to criticize, question, and prove to me that I'm wrong. That's what Torah study's about."

Israel Today

This week's Parsha states clearly: "Don't be like Korach" (Numbers 17:5) – which the Talmud (Sanhedrin 110a) explains is the prohibition against quarreling.

Hatred, jealousy and infighting are unfortunately not new terms to our people. The Talmud (Yoma 9b) says that it was baseless hatred amongst Jews which brought about the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple has lain in ruins for 2,000 years.

Only through unconditional love will it be rebuilt.

Much is said about internal disputes between Jews in Israel. Perhaps we cannot completely eliminate these disputes. But we must never forget an essential rule: "Every person is worthy of profound respect, regardless of their beliefs and level of observance."

I may have differences and disagree with other Jews on various issues. I may disagree with my wife on various issues as well. But just as I would never consider distancing from my wife based on our disagreements, so too I would never consider distancing myself from other Jews.

In Israel - where the issue of Jewish unity is most critical - much is being done to address the problem. Organizations like Gesher and Common Denominator run programs to bring together divergent groups - kibbutzniks with settlers, or secular with religious - to help discover that what unites us is ultimately greater than that which divides us.

How appropriate that the city of Jerusalem is actually a contraction of two words - Yeru-Shalem - "peace will be seen." May the Almighty bless us with the patience and sensitivity to avoid destructive arguments, and to accord proper respect to all.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Shraga Simmons

January 12, 2000

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Visitor Comments: 18

(16) Anonymous, June 18, 2015 11:54 AM

Well put! Thanks for posting!

(15) Bev Margolis, June 22, 2014 8:32 PM

It cannot be accomplished

Peace with the Arab gangs who call themselves countries, will never happen in my lifetime, nor in the lifetime of our children's children.As long as the Arabs choose to blame Israel for the ills of th world and poison their children with the most violent forms of hatred that seems to be inclucated with their mother's milk, there CAN be no hint or whisper of peace. Rather than look at what Israel has accomplished fdor the world in its <70 years, they wish to dumbly follow the braying of their "religoius" leaders. The refusal of the world's media to accurately reflect what is going on in that tiny portion of the world simply adds legitimacy to illigimate forces. Genesis states that the Arabs would be called wild asses of men and that their hands would be on thie necks of their fellows. If nothing else, that proves to be that God IS because that is what they are. The Arabs always seek to destroy, not build. They seek to disparage, not encourage. They seek war at the slightest scent of peace. Why Hashem has set us up for this kind of hatred is beyond me, I just pray that at sometime in the future the Arabs wake up and see that the path of destruction they have been on for the past several thousands of years has brought them exactly NOTHING.

M. David Harel, June 19, 2015 5:30 AM

Too bad life isn't so simple.

What is it about people that we all seem to need to lump all members of some nation or race etc into neat and simple boxes. When non-Jews talk about "the Jews" this and "the Jews" that, we strongly protest. But it seems it's perfectly okay for a Jew to talk about "the Arabs" in the same way -- "they" are all the same, believe the same, do the same, etc. Even in Israel, there are lots of Arabs who are not Muslim. I haven't heard of any Arab Christians who have committed acts of pure terrorism or (so-called) suicide bombings. Yes, they probably do mostly believe they are living in an occupied land and that they have had their ancestral land taken from them or have had homes bulldozed, but well, from their viewpoint that is exactly what has happened. While there are groups of Muslims and Arabs and Jews who are working together for a rational and equitable peace, they are still in a small minority. This is unfortunate, but better than nothing. Every time I respond or comment on these kinds of sites, I always make a point to mention the village of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, about half-way between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. I wish that people -- both Jews, Israelis, Muslims, Christians, "Palestinians" -- would at least check them out. Things are not perfect there, but I believe with all my heart they are at least on the right track. In 1971, I had the great privilege of becoming friends with Bruno Hussar, the priest whose dream of peace was the seed for the village.

irene, July 7, 2016 2:19 PM

Peace ALSO needs two parties

Just as it takes two to argue, it takes two to make peace. Even if you were to agree with everything the so called "Palestinians" claim and demand, even giving away Hashem's land which is your heritage, to them, you would not get peace or "shalom", you might only get absence of war from the so called "Palestinians" if you are lucky... - but it would for sure give you a new war, a war with Hashem for giving away HIS land to someone else without having been given the authority to give it awyay.
You cannot create peace alone. Only thing you can do are to make sure you don't create war by acting unfairly according to the Torah. True peace requires truth, and that can't be created as long as one part demands to stick to lies. Not until the Arabs accept to stick to the truth of the Torah, and recognize and respect what is actually set aside for the Jews can there be any hope for peace. Same goes for the Jews of course, but there is a greater possibility that Jews will start believing the whole Torah, including the promises Hashem gave about Israel, and it's borders - than Arabs will do so.

(14) Loren Huss, June 18, 2014 6:18 PM

Love from a distance

The Torah commands us to love. However, dissent, arguments, and disagreements sometimes tend to place a wedge between that love. We should always want the best for the other person. Unfortunately, because of people's idiosyncrasies it is impossible to be around them. Loving from a distance (praying for, wanting the best for, and offering "secret" tzedeka) maybe the only way to keep the peace.

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