Controversy and rebellions are all a part of life.
A controversy for
will have lasting value,
But a controversy not for heaven’s sake will not endure
What is an example of a controversy for heaven’s sake?
The debates of Hillel and Shammai.
What is an example of a controversy not for heaven’s sake?
The rebellion of Korach and his associates.
Clearly, the Rabbis felt that Korach’s rebellion was not for the sake of heaven and was therefore NOT worthwhile. So what was the difference? Throughout the Talmud, the debates of Hillel and Shammai abound. Each one debates the merits of a position not of the people who hold those opinions. Unlike Korach, whose focus is not on the issues but rather on the person of Moses. At the same time, elsewhere in the Talmud, it suggests that: one must not "cling" to a quarrel.
The Hofetz Hayim, a famous Hasidic commentator of the late 19
and early 20th century, explains the problem of "clinging" to a quarrel. He says: one who holds onto a "quarrel" or disagreement is in danger of being led towards other transgressions: unwarranted hatred, lashon hara (gossip), tale bearing, anger, insults, humiliating words, revenge, grudges, curses, and hatred.
Korach, in his attempt to debate Moses’ position, does not argue issues or abilities. Instead, he takes potshots at Moses’ character and, according to the Midrash, falsely accuses Moses of illicit activity. Like the Hofetz Hayim warns, Korach is led to the transgressions of slander, anger, jealousy and envy, and it consumes him.
The lesson of Korach is a challenge to each of us to be conscious of how we handle ourselves in times of debate or disagreement. Because we are all human, there are times when we lose our temper, when we say things we shouldn’t have, or when we blow things out of proportion.
The most important thing according to the Torah is mutual respect. We are all allowed to follow our own beliefs while not forgetting to respect those who hold alternate opinions. Love and community must transcend our individual opinions for a higher continuity of acceptance.
That’s this Rabbi’s prayer this Shabbat!