by Rabbi Dovid Green
This week's parsha begins with the dissention of Korach, a cousin of Moshe
Rabbainu. He challenged Moshe's authority to appoint Aharon, his brother,
as Kohein Gadol, or High Priest. Korach, Doson, Avirom, and 250 men, mostly
from the tribe of Reuven, teamed up against Moshe. Rashi, (the medieval
French Commentator) writes that Korach was disgruntled about the
appointment of his younger cousin as Prince over his family, while he felt
the position was coming to him.
The Sages of the Talmud comment about Korach and his colleagues as follows.
"Any dispute which is for the sake of heaven will endure, and any dispute
which is not for the sake of heaven will not endure. What is a dispute
which is for the sake of heaven? This is the dispute between Hillel and
Shammai. (And) What is the dispute which is not for the sake of heaven?
This is the dispute between Korach and his followers" (Chapters of the
Fathers). There are a few questions about this, as follows.
- What is a dispute which is for the sake of heaven?
- Why is it
considered positive for a dispute to endure?
- Why does the statement say
that the dispute was between Korach and his followers? Wasn't it between
Korach and Moshe?
A dispute for the sake of heaven is one which is borne out of similar
intentions to ascertain the truth. The opponents are, in reality, on the
same team. Hillel and Shammai may have had differing perspectives about how
to understand the application of a Torah law, but they both wanted to
observe the law as G-d intended them to.
The ability for the dispute to "endure" is that the goal of the opponents
endures, not the dispute, because the underlying intentions are "for the
sake of heaven," and not for selfish ends.
Korach's dispute was not between Korach and Moshe. Korach and Moshe were
not opponents. Korach's intentions were not the same as Moshe's. They were
motivated by his perceived loss of dignity at the appointment of his
younger cousin, not that G-d be served according to His will. Since Korach
and his followers were all motivated by selfish ends, none of them were
really on the same team. Each one teamed up with the other so that he could
attain his own selfish goal. None of them were acting on behalf of the
bigger picture. This is why the Sages say that the dispute was between
Korach and his followers.
There is a proof that Korach and his followers' intentions were selfish.
The test they were willing to undergo to choose a new High Priest was that
each one would bring a sacrifice of "Ketores," a blend of particular
spices. Each one knew that only one man's sacrifice would be accepted, and
only he would live through the test. Still they were willing to go through
Before we enter into disagreements with others we would benefit by
remembering the mistake of Korach and his followers. We might ask ourselves
together with an objective third party the following questions. Why do I
care about this? Is it for the sake of truth, or for my own concerns? What
might I lose if I get involved? What might the world gain? Will it really
matter in the long run if I get my way?
In conclusion, there is a passage in the morning liturgy. It describes the
way the ministering angels sanctify G-d each day. "And they encourage each
other to sanctify their Creator etc. The Eitz Yosef, one of the
authoritative commentators of the liturgy, writes as follows. "They
encourage each other to sanctify G-d. Their focus is not on who does the
job; rather their main concern is that the job be done." The ministering
angels are team players. Let us take their example in our lives, and be
better for it.
Text Copyright © 1998 Rabbi Dovid Green and
Project Genesis, Inc.