Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller
The first part of this week’s parsha deals with the infamous insurrection of Korach and his congregation. Our sages in Pikei Avos describe this conflict with Moshe Rabeinu as the ultimate example of מחלוקת שלא לשם שמים – conflict which is caused by people who do not have pure motives. The contrast is the arguments of Bais Shammai and Bais Hillel which were for pure motives.
It is often difficult to discern what an adversary’s motive is. Often the first rebuttal to a challenge is to accuse one’s adversary of self-serving motives. However, there are some clues which help analyze from where the challenge is really coming. The gemara describes the tremendous respect which Bais Shammai and Bais Hillel displayed to each other even when the halachic debate got quite pitched and tense. There wasn’t any demonizing, disingenuous accusations, or unnecessary escalations. This is because both sides were seeking truth for the right reasons and that is what guided their behavior even during very contentious debates.
Conversely, Korach’s complaint about his own status as a “common” Levite began with an accusation that Moshe and Aron had cornered all the prestige and leadership for themselves and their close family. If Korach had really been looking to right a perceived wrong, he would have argued that he was also deserving of a leadership role. He was, however, motivated by jealousy and his view was that it was a zero-sum game, if he was elevated, Moshe and Aron must lose. This is how we know where his “crusade for his rights” really came from.
Unfortunately, we face challenges and contention in our personal and professional lives. We cannot always change others’ behaviors toward us, but we can monitor our own behavior. Are we being fair and not being accusatory? Are we able to concede that our opponent has merits either in the current argument or otherwise? Have we demonized them to the point that we cannot hear them anymore? These are questions we must ask ourselves to keep ourselves straight during such unsettling situations.