• Akiva Murguia

Rabbi Elimelech Biderman - Torah Wellsprings - Korach - Part 1


As a Levi, Korach, was bestowed with the most prestigious honor of carrying the aron. The Arizal taught that in the era of the Resurrection of the Dead, Korach will be the cohen gadol, and the Chidushei HaRim zt'l says that if it weren't for this dispute, Korach would have become the Levi Gadol — an extremely great honor, which so far, no one ever received. So if Korach was so great, where did he go wrong? In all likelihood, Korach didn’t realize he was sinning. He thought his ambitions were altruistic, that he was fighting for Klal Yisrael's honor, and/or for his own spiritual rights. Had he looked closer he would discover that behind his dispute was jealousy and a drive for honor. He would have discovered that what he thought was righteous indignation was the yetzer hara.

The Baal HaTanya writes, "Most suffering …comes due to disputes 'for the sake of Heaven.' May Hashem save us from them" (Igeres HaKadosh 56). Consequently, whenever you’re about to create a dispute"for the sake of Heaven," be cautious. Realize that you may be mistaken. Give yourself time to think things over and to check things out. Often, jealousy, hatred, or some other bad character traits lurks at the root of your dispute.

Kayin and Hevel had a dispute, which ended with Kayin killing Hevel. What was the dispute about? The Midrash (Bereishis Rabba 22:7) states two opinions. One is they were debating on whose property the Beis HaMikdash will be built, as each of them wanted the Beis HaMikdash on their property. A second explanation is that they were arguing about the earth; who owns the land, and who owns the elements/substances? "Kayin and Hevel said, 'Let's divide the world between us.' [They did so: One owned the land, and the other became the owner of all mitaltelen (elements/substances). The landowner said, 'you are standing on my land!' "The other replied, 'And you are wearing my clothing. Remove the clothes.' "'And you must fly [in the air].'" This was the spirit of the dispute, which ended with murder. Baalei mussar say that both explanations of the Midrash are telling the same story. Their real intention in the dispute was about wealth, the ownership of the land and its resources. But they were ashamed to fight over such petty issues, so they fought over who would host the Beis HaMikdash. But the core of the dispute was about money. Kayin and Hevel claimed their dispute was spiritual – about who would host the beis HaMikdash – and they probably convinced themselves that this was their true intent. However, the Midrash reveals that the real motives were selfishness and egocentricity, as they both wanted to be the exclusive owner of the world. Sometimes people convince themselves that their sole interest is spirituality, but a closer look reveals that pride, desire, competition, and other bad traits are the source of the disagreement.

Reb Yohonasan Eibshitz, zy’a, (Yaaras Dvash, drush 8) writes, "At every dispute, the yetzer hara assures us that our intentions are purely for the sake of Heaven, and G-d forbid, to even suggest otherwise! So, how can we recognize whether a dispute is for the sake of Heaven or not? This is the test: If both parties love each other with all their heart and soul — aside for the issue they are arguing about — that is a sign that their argument is leshem shamayim. However, if they harbor hatred towards one another, the dispute isn't leshem shamayim. The Mishnah hints to this when it states, how do we know that a dispute is leshem shamayim? The answer is, if it is similar to the dispute of Shamai and Hillel, for Shamai and Hillel loved and honored each other. This proves that their dispute was leshem shamayim. But Korach and his followers had animosity towards Moshe. They almost stoned him…This proves that their dispute wasn't leshem shamayim. With this test, one can know whether his intentions are leshem shamayim or not." If you still love the rival party, and you want to do whatever you can to help them, this indicates that your intentions are pure. You’re fighting because you feel that something has to be corrected, but not because of baseless hatred. However, if you hate your fellow man (or fellow community) your intentions aren't pure.

The Bnei Yissaschar zt'l gives us another sign to determine whether your intentions are leshem shamayim, or motivated by jealousy. Generally, when one is fighting with "religious indignation" his emotions are passionate. He feels like an exploding volcano, ready to knock down all people who are going against Hashem. He should gauge himself and see whether he ever has such frenzy when he performs a mitzvah, such as tallis and tefillin, succah, helping the poor, etc.? If his passion is solely by machlokes it’s an indication that he’s inspired by the yetzer hara, and not from the yetzer tov.

Chazal also tell us that during the plague of darkness, four-fifths of the nation perished. During those days, the Jewish nation was busy burying their dead. The Sar Shalom of Belz zt'l asks, why weren't the merits of those funerals and burials sufficient to redeem them? Why did they need more merits? The answer is, burying others isn’t always a merit. The Sar Shalom was suggesting that sometimes people think it’s a mitzvah to bury someone, to shame another, and to take away the parnassah from a third, and they claim that they’re doing it for the sake of Heaven. The Torah didn’t count burying the dead as a merit to be redeemed from Egypt to remind us that harming and burying others with lashon hara, dispute, and the like, aren’t the mitzvos we should seek. You think you’re doing the greatest mitzvah, but think again, because it may be the greatest sin.

The Gemara (Yevamos 14) says, "Although Beis Shamai and Beis Hillel argued… Beis Shamai didn’t refrain from marrying into Beis Hillel, and Beis Hillel didn’t refrain from marrying into Beis Shamai. They treated each other with love and friendship. As it states, 'You shall love truth and peace'" (Zecharyah 8:19). As Reb Yohonoson Eibshitz taught, this proved that their dispute was for the sake of Heaven.

The Imrei Noam zt'l taught that the worst sins can be committed when one thinks he’s motivated by spirituality. No G-d fearing person would agree to destroy someone's living, or to destroy someone's life. No sane thinking person would do such things. But the yetzer hara convinces a person that he must take a stand to avenge Hashem's honor, or to preserve Judaism, and so on, so he must fight with an individual or with a community. And now he is liable to do sins he would never consider doing otherwise. If he is wrong, and Hashem doesn’t want the dispute, than he is taking Hashem's name and using it as a powerful weapon to do terrible things.

Another problem with a dispute for the sake of Heaven is that such a dispute can last a very long time. The instigators don’t repent, for they think they’re acting righteously. Whilst a dispute over mundane matters can be amended over time, when Hashem’s name is involved, it can last forever. This is hinted in the following Mishnah (Avos 5:17): "A dispute that’s for the sake of Heaven will last, but a dispute that isn't for the sake of Heaven, won't last." It says in Pirkei Avos (5:20), "What is an example of a dispute for the Sake of Heaven? The dispute of Hillel and Shamai. Which dispute wasn't leshem shamayim? The dispute of Korach and his entire congregation." The Malbim asks, was Korach arguing with his congregation? Wasn’t the argument with Moshe? The answer is, says the Malbim, when a dispute isn't for the sake of Heaven, everyone involved has different interests. The tribe of Reuven joined Korach's fight since as oldest tribe, they believed they should be the cohen gadol. Korach was in it for his reasons and interests. Everyone involved was in it for themselves. They were united in their campaign against Moshe, but there were many other internal disputes going on, too.

In his prophetic dream, Yaakov Avinu saw angels going up and down a ladder. The Gemara (Chulin 91:) teaches, "They went up and saw Yaakov's image in heaven. They went down and they saw Yaakov's image below. They wanted to harm him [due to their jealousy] therefore, immediately, 'Hashem stood over him' to protect him." From this we see what jealousy could do to a person, and what it can do even to an angel. They were ready to harm Yaakov Avinu – the the choicest one of the forefathers” – because of their jealousy!

The Midrash (Vayikra Rabba, Tzav, 9) states, "Shalom is great, for all blessings come from peace…" The Mishnah (Uktzin 3:2) states, "Hakadosh Baruch Hu didn’t find a utensil to hold blessings other than peace…" The Shlah (Yoma, Derech Chaim 44) states "One dispute pushes away one hundred parnassos." These sources imply that shalom brings blessings and wealth, while disputes results in poverty. One should avoid disputes for that reason alone.

Every person has a weak spot where he loses himself. For some it's money issues, for others it’s when their honor at stake (or to attain honor) and a third category of people lose themselves when it comes to jealousy. They can be very intelligent and rational, but when these issues are involved, they act in totally irrational ways to get money, honor, or whatever it is that’s extremely important for them. It’s written, "Who places peace in your borders…" (Tehillim 147:14). The Chasam Sofer zt'l explains that the verse is urging us to make "peace" our boundary of our intelligence. Instead of making your weak spot money, honor etc. your wall when you lose your sense and work irrationally, your weak spot should be your quest for peace. For the sake of peace you should be ready to behave totally irrational.

There are indeed times when it could be claimed that maintaining peace isn't rational. Someone hurt you or someone you love; does it make sense to be at peace with him? Nevertheless, we are encouraged to make shalom our weak spot and we should lose all our intelligence and rational thinking in order to maintain peace.

The verse concludes, "fat wheat will sustain you," which means, in the merit of your emphasis on peace, Hashem will grant you parnassah in abundance. As stated above, peace brings parnassah and all blessings.

The Gemara (Bava Metzia 59.) teaches that honoring one's wife is conducive for parnassah. "Rava said to the people of Mechuza, 'Honor your wives so you will become wealthy.'" What is the association between honoring one's wife and earning parnassah? We can explain as follows: Man was cursed that he must work very hard for his parnassah. The woman was cursed that her husband will rule over her (Bereishis 3:19). If he will be lenient with her curse, and not rule over her, then measure for measure, his curse will also be minimized, and he will earn his parnassah easily.

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 7.) teaches, "Fortunate is the person who trains himself to remain silent when disgraced. He is saved from a hundred troubles…" Aharon HaCohen is a prime example of someone who remained silent in a dispute. Korach's dispute was against Aharon, as Korach sought to usurp the cohen gadol position from Aharon. But Aharon remained silent throughout the ordeal. The Torah says, "Moshe heard and fell on his face" (16:4). The Ramban writes, "it doesn’t state that 'they fell,' because Aharon, with his ways of mussar and holiness didn’t say anything during this entire episode. His silence implied that he agreed that Korach was greater than him, and that the sole reason he was cohen gadol was because he was following Moshe's orders…" This is one of the reasons the Mishnah views Aharon HaCohen as the paradigm of peace. As it states, "Be among Aharon's student: Love peace, chase peace…" (Avos 1:12). When there was a dispute , he remained silent.

Moshe Rabbeinu is also a paradigm of peace, for he was the greatest prophet, the king of Klal Yisrael, and yet he acted with extreme humility to stop the dispute, for he went to Dasan and Aviram's tent to make peace. As it states (16:25), "Moshe stood up and went to Dassan and Aviram and the elders of Yisrael followed after him…"

These ideas are stated in the Shlah Hakadosh. He writes, "Be from the students of Aharon who love peace and pursue peace (Avos 1:12) for Aharon didn’t speak throughout the dispute. Although Korach's motive was to take away Aharon's honor, Aharon didn’t say anything. Whatever one can do to increase peace and to put out the fire of dispute, he should do. Learn from Moshe Rabbeinu a'h who was the greatest of all prophets and he was king, yet he himself went to Dassan and Aviram who rebelled against him… He went to them together with the elders of Yisrael, and all of this was for the sake of peace."

The words, "Moshe stood up," seems extra, because it would be sufficient to state, "Moshe went to Dassan and Aviram…" The Or HaChaim answers that 'Moshe stood up' implies that Moshe went up a level. As it states, honor is preceded by humility. Moshe endured a moment of humiliation (when he went to Dasan and Aviram for the sake of peace). The result was that Moshe was elevated, and reached another height of greatness.

As we discuss the need to avoid dispute, it’s appropriate to note that one should take extra precautions on Fridays, because the yetzer hara is very active on Friday to create disputes.

The Chida writes, "Erev Shabbos afternoon is a perilous time for machlokes between a husband and wife… The sitra achara strives with all its might to initiate a dispute…" The Gemara (Gittin 52.) brings a story of a couple who would fight every Friday. This was caused by the Satan who dwelled in their home, and instigated the disputes. To help them, Reb Meir came to their house on Friday, and obviously, in his presence they wouldn’t fight. He was there for three successive Fridays, and restored the peace in their home. Reb Meir heard the Satan say, "Woe, Reb Meir drove me out of this house!" The holy sefarim teach that this Gemara is an indication of what happens in many people's homes on Fridays. The Satan is there to start a dispute. The Satan does this, to ruin their potential for blessings, as Shabbos is the source of all blessings.

As the Chasam Sofer (Likutim Vayakhel) writes, "The six days of the week receive their blessings from Shabbos. A vessel is needed to contain those blessings, and that vessel is peace (see Uktzin 3:2). The yetzer hara therefore goes all-out to create a dispute on Shabbos, the day that blessings abound, so we won't have a vessel to receive those blessings, thereby ruining the entire upcoming week. With these ideas I explain the verse (Exodus 35:2-3) which means that the blessings and the success of the six weekdays comes from the seventh day — Shabbos. Therefore, don’t ignite the fire of dispute on Shabbos, and you will have a vessel to hold the blessings."

Reb Chaim Palagi zt'l (Kaf HaChaim 27:35) writes, "I affirm that every household that has a dispute on Friday afternoon or on Friday night it is certain, proven, and true that something bad will happen to them during the week. Check it and you will see that it is so," because they lack the blessings that come from Shabbos.

The Ben Ish Chai adds that if someone in your home does something wrong on Friday regarding Shabbos preparations and the like, don’t be angry with them, because it isn't their fault. The Satan caused them to make that error, to provoke a dispute on Friday. He writes, "Know, if one fights with his wife, children, or maid, he thinks that he is right for saying those sharp words because of their error. However, if he would be wise, he would understand that if a mistake happened in the home, it wasn't their fault — it happened because the Satan, who seeks to instill disputes at that time… Therefore, if some deed of the home wasn't completed properly at that time, don’t blame your wife or your maids. Understand the justification we are stating here, because it is the truth. And then you will not be angry with them…and it will be good for you in this world and in the next world.”


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