"We are closer to G-d when we are asking the questions, than when we think we have the answers" Heschel

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Machloket – a different perspective

FNQ – parsha thought
It would be easy to read this week's sad story of the rebellion of Korach and conclude that one should never be involved in any form of machloket (argument) . After all look what happened to Korach and his people, would you want to be swallowed up by the ground? But I believe that machloket is a very mixed bag and not totally negative. I would like a share a few thoughts on this topic and provide a balance for the profoundly negative and one sided portrayal of machloket that we find in the parsha.

Upon the conclusion of the Korach saga the Torah gives a very clear directive that one should take away from the Korach story. The Torah says: “don't be like Korach and his assembly.” If you asked me I would have thought that this verse prohibits all machloket, or challenge of authority. However, the Rabbis learned a commandment whose message is slightly different. What is learned from this verse is that we are commanded not to maintain or prolong an argument (שלא להחזיק במחלוקת). I don't think it requires a great amount of analysis to appreciate that this mitzvah is in no way telling us that it is forbidden to have a machloket. Such a prohibition would be impossible and quite dangerous. Argument and debate is critical for the health of the society and the individual. One need not look very far back in history (and the present) to see the potential for evil in a society that doesn't permit dissenting views.

If machloket is good and healthy what is the Torah telling us not to do. Furthermore, what was so terrible about the actions of Korach and his people. I believe the prohibition in the Torah is not entering into an argument but rather staying in it and not seeking a resolution. In fact I don't think Korach's sin and the ensuing punishment were because of his outlandish and disrespectful challenge of Moshe. Perhaps it was done in an inappropriate manner but it didn't call for a ground swallowing punishment. The sin took place when Moshe sent messengers to the people of Korach and they refused to talk with them. At this moment they were machzik b'machloket (maintained the machloket). The moment they refused to engage in a discussion and perhaps even a debate they showed that they had no interest in a resolution. Their criticisms and challenges proved to be purely destructive and were motivated soley by hate and jealousy. This was there sin: creating conflict and dissension with no interest in reconciliation. This attitude is so dangerous and infectious that not only must the individuals be swallowed up but their families and belongings must also be disposed of.

In life machloket is inevitable. We are all different and we each relate to and perceive reality in our unique way. When we all are committed to the same goal, diversity of opinion is incredibly positive and beneficial. When we remain focused on our destination the singular talents of every individual are indispensable in reaching our destiny. Unfortunately all too often people forget the objective and abandon the national mission for their own personal gain. When this happens machloket is an incredibly destructive force. The greatest indicator that someone has lost their way and ventured down the selfish path towards the chasm of Korach is their unwillingness to engage in a discussion and find resolutions to their grievances.

It is challenging to know when one has veered off the proper path towards senseless machloket but I believe that if a person constantly questions his motives and surrounds himself with honest and upright people one can steer clear of the perilous pit of being machzik b'machloket.

What do you think?
Binyamin – always looking for a good question

1 comment:

  1. I think I couldn't disagree more and I have no interest in discussing it further--Ha Ha. All jokes aside, well said. The hint of Korach comes right from the start- "and he separated himself". Once one separates him/her self (don't want to offend Aviva) from the community in the name of disagreement or to maintain a machloket, that is destructive to the klal. Good Shabbos to all the Millers and Mazel Tov to older brother and his family on their new addition.