The Strife Factor
Moses did not grow up among the Jewish people, although he bore them a
passionate love. During the decrees of infanticide, an Egyptian princess had
discovered the infant Moses hidden among the bulrushes of the Nile River and
reared him as her own.
Although surrounded by luxury and opulence, the thought of his people
enslaved and oppressed gave Moses no rest. Finally, when he was old enough,
he set out to see firsthand the suffering of his people and to find how he
could help alleviate it. As he ventured forth, he encountered a sadistic
Egyptian taskmaster beating a Jewish laborer brutally. Overcome with
compassion, Moses struck down the Egyptian tormentor and buried the corpse
in the sand, unaware that he had been observed by a pair of Jews named
Dathan and Abiram.
The next day, Moses saw Dathan and Abiram fighting each other.
“Villain!” Moses cried. “Why do you strike your fellow Jew?”
They turned to Moses with disdain and said, “So what do you propose to do?
Will you murder us as you murdered the Egyptian?”
Moses was shocked. “Aha, the thing is known,” he cried out.
On the surface, it would seem that Moses was shocked at finding out his
killing of the Egyptian was no secret. But the Midrash reads a deeper
meaning into these words. Aha, Moses was saying, this is why the Jewish
people continue to suffer in exile. If they are capable of strife and
informing on each other, they are not deserving of redemption.
But let us reflect for a moment. Was this the worst of their sins? The Jews
had been thoroughly contaminated by Egyptian society. Their behavior were
barely distinguishable from that of the Egyptians; their lives were
characterized by idolatry and immorality. Nonetheless, in spite of all this
dreadful sinfulness, Moses had found the Jewish suffering inexplicable. But
now that he saw two Jews fighting, he finally understood the cause of the
Jewish exile. How can this be?
Furthermore, the Sages tell us the Second Temple was destroyed because of
unjustified hatred Jews harbored in their hearts against each other. How are
we to understand this? Many other sins incur punishments far more severe
that does unjustified hatred. Why then did this particular sin bring on the
destruction of the Temple and the removal of the Divine Presence from among
the Jewish people for thousands of years?
The commentators point out that the revelation of the Divine Presence in
this world is really a paradox. How can the ultimate manifestation of
spirituality reside in a physical world? It can only be done, they explain,
by creating an oasis of spirituality to serve in the physical world, an
oasis composed not of physical elements such as bricks and mortal, of soil
and grass but of a community of people whose spiritual essence is paramount
in their existence. Collectively, these people form an island of
transcendent spirituality upon which the Divine Presence descends.
But how do we measure if a community is genuinely spiritual? It is in their
relationships with others. Materialistic people see others as adversaries
and are always jealously protective of their own status and domain.
Spiritual people, in tune with eternity, are above these petty concerns;
strife and egotism have no place in their world. Therefore, interpersonal
relations are the barometer which tell us if the community is worthy of
having the Divine Presence in its midst. If the strife factor is low, then
the spirituality level is high, and Hashem comes among them. In Egypt and at
the end of the Second Temple era, however, the strife factor was high, and
the Divine Presence left the Jewish people.
Two boys were fighting in school, shouting and pummeling each other until
one of the teachers pulled them apart.
When tempers cooled, the teacher called the boys to the front of the classroom.
“Do you understand what a terrible thing you did?” he asked.
“But he started up with me!” said one boy.
“Make two fists,” the teacher said to the boy.
The boy complied, and the teacher took the two fists in his hands and
pounded them against each other.
“Ouch!” the boy screamed. “It hurts!”
“Exactly,” said the teacher. “When your friend suffers pain, it should also
hurt you. When you hit him, it is as if you are hitting yourself!”
In our own lives, as we aspire to raise our level of our spirituality
through studying the Torah and living by its values and ideals, how can we
determine if we are truly connecting with the divine? We can do so by
measuring the strife factor in our daily existence. If we live in harmony
with other people, appreciating the goodness inherent in all of them, if our
lives are essentially free of strife and discord, then we have indeed
attained a high level of spirituality and forged an eternal bond with our
Father in Heaven.
Text Copyright © 2010 by Rabbi Naftali Reich and Torah.org.
Rabbi Reich is on the faculty of the Ohr Somayach Tanenbaum Education Center.