There Shall Not Be Like Korach

The verse in this week’s Torah reading says (17:5), “And there shall not be like Korach and his following.” This is referring to the story in which Korach instigated strife amongst the Jews in the desert by creating an uprising against their leader Moshe (Moses). Rabbeinu Yonah in Sha’arei Teshuvah (3:58) quotes from the Talmud (Sanhedrin 110a) that any person who supports a fight transgresses this prohibition. It is forbidden to be involved in discord.

Strife – Worse than Idolatry!

We might think of fighting as a merely another negative attribute, but in truth it is a lot worse. The Shelah writes (Sha’ar Ha’otiyot, Bet, Briyot) that strife is the worst evil in the world, and it is even worse than idolatry. The Shelah cites three instances in which we find that God temporarily ignored the sin of idolatry, but did not ignore the sin of strife. The Shelah adds that getting involved in a fight is prohibited even if the involvement is minimal, because a small fight can easily turn into a full-blown conflict. The Shelah ends off by stating that just as a loyal Jew is willing to suffer tremendously, if necessary, to avoid idol worship, how much more so should a Jew restrain himself to avoid conflict.

In a town called Kempna, a new cantor was hired. The rabbi was extremely opposed to the new candidate serving as the cantor since he was known to be a sinner. Despite the rabbi’s opposition, there were many members of the community who wanted the new cantor to serve in his new position. Before long, the dispute had created a split in the town.

The rabbi decided to ask Rabbi Yosef of Posen for his opinion about the situation. Rabbi Yosef of Posen wrote back in response, “Better that a cross should hang in the Beit Hamikdash (the Holy Temple) than to have a fight amongst Jews!”

Justice or Power Struggle?

Sometimes, it can be extremely tempting to engage in a fight. When we see someone is compromising our rights, we feel compelled to take a stand. When we feel that someone is acting with injustice, we become excited and ready to express opposition, utilizing all means at our disposal.

But are we acting with justice by conducting ourselves in such a manner? Is this the proper way of expressing our position? Just because someone else might be doing something wrong, that doesn’t necessarily justify creating discord. Although there are instances when people compromise Torah values and we must take a stand to defend the honor of God, more often than not, this is not the case. Many times, a person claims to be doing so, while in truth, it’s just a cover up for being drawn by the excitement of engaging in a power struggle.

More Important than Any Other Goal

We must realize that discord is serious business. Engaging in unwarranted conflict is a sin like any other sin, only worse! Just as one would be willing to give up many of his personal benefits for the sake of honoring God and avoiding the sin of idolatry, one should do the same for the sake of avoiding conflict. It may mean giving up money, our comfort and our personal honor.

In many cases, the most challenging part is giving up on defending our ego, and deferring to someone else’s preferences. It may mean relinquishing power and doing things in a manner which is less than ideal. As important as the goal which we are pursuing might be, we must keep in mind that avoiding fighting is even more important.

By Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber

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