Korach was considered one of the greatest people of his generation, but when he chose to quarrel with Moshe, he met his ignominious downfall. Furthermore, he brought down his entire family, even the little children.

The Chafetz Chaim, in his Shaar Hazechirah, a work that identifies the most pernicious sins, spends several chapters discussing the sin of machlokes, dissension. This sin, writes the Chafetz Chaim, is one of the most destructive, both in the havoc it wreaks in people’s lives and in the spiritual damage it causes to the soul.

Furthermore, points out the Chafetz Chaim, machlokes is particularly harmful to children. As the Midrash notes, the courts punish a person when he or she reaches legal adulthood. The Heavenly Court punishes when a person is past his adolescence, at least 20 years old. But in the Korach rebellion, even infants were swallowed up by the earth.

A number of sins are associated with machlokes ¾ slander, jealousy, hatred, causing public humiliation ¾ but the core evil of machlokes is the obsessive need to be victorious. The quarrel may begin over some genuine issue, but before long, it flares out of control and takes on a life of its own. The original issue is no longer so important. Winning
is important.

Brothers may get into an argument over a few thousand dollars of inheritance. The quarrel begins with the money, which is moderately significant. But once it gets started it leads into all sorts of other directions. The brothers stop going to each other’s simchos. They stop talking to each other. They burn with hatred and resentment. And all over what? Five thousand dollars? No, it is much more than that. It is a personality conflict. It is an ego thing. “I will not let him win out over me. I will show him who is right. It’s not the money, it’s the principle of the matter.” Oho! Once you hear about “the principle of the matter” you know things have gone from bad to horrendous.

Look how insane is this thing called machlokes, comments the Chafetz Chaim. Ask any parent if he would allow someone else to harm his child. Of course not. Ask any parent if he himself would harm his child. Preposterous! But it is proven that machlokes harms the children. So how can people play this dangerous game? And yet they do. Their need for vindication, for validation, for victory is so great that they are blinded to the dangers. It is incredible.

Two people in the Chafetz Chaim’s town became embroiled in a machlokes. As one would expect, the situation deteriorated as time went on, becoming uglier and messier. Then the children of the two antagonists mysteriously began to die.

Chafetz Chaim decided that enough was enough. He went to one of the parties and said, “ Don’t you think it’s time to stop? This is killing your children! Think about the children!”

An evil gleam appeared in the man’s eyes. He leaned forward and said, “Rebbe, I will bury all of them, but I am going to win.”

As a famous American sports figure once said, “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” This is not the Torah way. It is pagan.

The story of Korach teaches us how far we can descend once we embark on the road to machlokes. We must avoid taking even the first step.

The Mishneh states (Avos 5:17) that any argument lesheim Shamayim, for the sake of Heaven, will have lasting results, and any argument not for the sake of Heaven but for self-interests will not have lasting results. The Mishneh goes on to give examples for the two types of dispute. An argument for the sake of Heaven is like that of “the schools of Hillel and Shammai,” who were always disagreeing with each other. An argument not for the sake of Heaven is like that of “Korach and his followers.”

Many commentators are puzzled by the phrase “Korach and his followers.” The Mishneh mentions only one side of the dispute. Shouldn’t the Mishneh have said “the argument of Korach and Moshe,” just as the Mishneh mentions “the schools of Hillel and Shammai,” who represent both sides of the dispute?

Rav Shimon Schwab explains that in an argument for the sake of Heaven both parties are interested in hearing the opinion of the other. Their goal is to arrive at the truth, and in order to do so, they have to hear both sides of the argument. Afterward, they will decide what they believe, and if it differs from the other school, there will be a dispute.

But in an argument that is not for the sake of Heaven, such as that of Korach and his followers, there was no interest in discovering the truth. There was only a grab for prestige and power. Why would they want to hear what the other side had to say? They turned a deaf ear to all the arguments against their position. Therefore, their dispute did not really have two sides. There was only one ¾ Korach and his followers.

The Talmud tells us (Berachos 58a), “Just as people’s faces are not exactly alike, so are their opinions not exactly alike.” Rav Shlomo Eiger discerns an important lesson in this comment. No one is bothered by the differences in appearance among people. No one needs that all people should be identical to him. By the same token, no one should feel that everyone must share his opinions exactly.

If we would be more tolerant, if we would accept that others have different views and opinions, and that this is as it should be, we would go a long way toward avoiding machlokes.