Korach: Conflict and Peacemaking

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Korach

Shalom everybody, we’re reading the Torah portion Korach this week-
which is always an interesting portion to read in an election year. A
story of leadership and its challenges, most of the mitzvot in the
portion have to do with the priests and Levites, and are thus no
longer practiced.

However, while not being a separate mitzvah, as such, our friend Rashi
does derive an ethical principle from the verse in which Moshe reaches
out to two of the ringleaders of Korach’s gang of rebels:

“Moshe sent for Datan and Aviram, sons of Eliab; but they said, ‘We
will not come!’ ” (Bamidbar 16:12)

Rashi teaches that we learn from this that we should not persist in a
dispute [“machazikin,” literally, to grasp or hold tightly to the
dispute], as he understands “Moshe sent” as relating that Moshe
answered his opponents with peacemaking words. That is, “Moshe sent”
for Datan and Aviram in order to talk with them and answer their
concerns. As an ethical principle, this would be consistent with other
mitzvot, such as the prohibitions against holding a grudge or taking
revenge.

According to this reading, Moshe tried to make peace with Datan and
Aviram even though, as the Torah presents it, Moshe was on the right
side of the argument and they were wrong, both factually and
ethically, in their challenge to his leadership. In other words, “not
persisting in a dispute” doesn’t only mean “letting it go,” in the
sense of no longer actively participating in the conflict, it also
means humbling oneself and trying to reconcile even if one is
absolutely convinced that the other person is wrong.

To say the least, this is not easy, especially in public settings,
where disputes become wrapped up in ego and honor and the argument
itself gets lost in the tangle of personalities and wounded pride. To
make peace is not always possible- as with Korach and his followers,
sometimes the best efforts at compromise tragically fail. Yet Judaism
teaches us that the ways of the Torah are “darchei noam” or “the paths
of peacefulness.” [“Noam” is pleasant, peaceful, nice, agreeable,
etc.] Nobody possessed a surer grasp of the truth from Heaven than
Moshe and yet he didn’t let his authority get in the way of his
humanity- how much more so must the rest of us, who do not have a
direct mandate from Sinai, be pleasant, humble, reconciling
peacemakers in a world full of (often quite legitimate) disputes,
arguments and conflicts.

Shabbat Shalom,

RNJL

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