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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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And the land opened its mouth, and swallowed them (, Dassan, and Aviram and their families), along with their houses, and all the men that were aligned with Korach, and all their goods. (Bemidar 16:32)Rabbi Menashe ben Porat of Illiya was in great demand as a teacher, because of his wonderful drashos. And so he used to travel regularly to the city of Mohilov to lecture.
Once when he was giving one of these lectures, he happened to refer to something from the books of the famous philosophers Aristotle and Plato. On hearing this, one of the young married men in the congregation interrupted Rabbi Menashe by calling out rudely, “It is a great sin to mention the wise people of the gentiles here in the Shul in front of the Aron Kodesh.”
A tumult arose in the Shul, and many people rebuked the young man for his arrogance in interrupting such a great teacher as Rabbi Menashe.
Rabbi Menashe did not say a word about the interruption however, and he continued his lecture as if nothing had happened, and when he had finished he sat down. Not only did the young man who had disturbed him not come to ask his forgiveness for his brazen behavior, but he even went on to warn Rabbi Menashe that he dare not lecture on the same topics again. Once again Rabbi Menashe acted as if he were deaf and dumb and did not reply or react.
One of the wealthy people in Mohilov was Rabbi Shemaryahu Luria, and it was he who had brought Rabbi Menashe to Mohilov to lecture. After the lecture, Rabbi Shemaryahu went up to Rabbi Menashe and asked him, “How can you stand the chutzpah of that young man?” Once again Rabbi Menashe did not reply.
As Rabbi Shemaryahu was escorting Rabbi Menashe to his house, a calf approached them suddenly and jumped upon Rabbi Shemaryahu causing his coat to fall on the ground. Only then did Rabbi Menashe finally reply, “Why are you silent and not rebuking the calf for its chutzpah? Does the calf have any sense? Does it even know what it is doing? The answer to these questions will also answer your questions about that young man.” (K’tzes Ha-Shemesh Bi’Gvuraso, p.152)
Rabbi Menashe reveals some excellent advice which can help us avoid quarreling with another person: if you begin to feel agitated, judge the other favorably, and simply realize that at this time he lacks the good sense to know how to behave and what to say. This is a valuable lesson in marriage, where quarreling can cause great harm.
“And the land opened its mouth.”1 Rabbi Yehudah said, “At that time the land opened many mouths, as it is written, “In the midst of all the land.”2
Rabbi Nechemia said (of Rabbi Yehudah’s words), “But it is already written, ‘And the land opened its mouth,’ so how then can I explain the verse, ‘in the midst of all the land’? The answer is that the entire ground became like a sieve so that any place where there were some of them (Korach’s followers), or their money, they would be made to roll over to the pit and fall in. So the verses: ‘And the land opened its mouth’ and ‘in the midst of all the land’ are not mutually exclusive.”
“And all the established things at their (Korach and his followers) feet.”3 This is a reference to money, which puts a person on his feet.
Our Rabbis have taught, “Even if someone in the party of Korach had lent something to another person, it rolled away and was swallowed by the pit.” Rabbi Shemuel bar Nachman said, “Even a needle that was lent to someone from the followers of Korach went rolling away and was swallowed by the pit along with them, as it is written, “And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them along with their houses, and all the men that were aligned with Korach, and all their goods.”4 (Yalkut 752 par. Vayiftach)
Why did the ground have many mouths for the people of Korach to fall into? Why did the possessions of Korach also fall into the pit, when the possessions did not sin? Why did the Torah call money something that puts you on your feet and why is this lesson taught here?
The problem with Korach was that he was looking for arguments. Instead of being satisfied with what he had as a Levi, he also wanted to have the portions of the kohanim. He envied the presents and the honor which they received. To get what he wanted he tried to override the authority of Moshe, since it was through Moshe that all the revelations of these matters took place.
Because of Korach’s selfish cravings, he was willing to go against the whole Torah, which is what Moshe represented. This greed was the basis for his quarrel against Moshe. He knew that only by quarreling and questioning Moshe’s authority did he stand a chance of gaining his ends.
Unjustified dissent is very dangerous, because it can undermine the structure of a society and could make many other people insecure regarding their tasks in life. If Korach would have been allowed to continue his quarrel, he would have tried to prove Moshe a liar. He thought that if he could show Moshe was, G-d forbid, a liar, there would have been no reason to keep the Torah, since it came from a liar. Thus Korach was attacking the very essence of the Jewish people and their way of life.
That is the reason why many mouths were opened in the ground, so that the people who had made this horrible rebellion would disappear instantaneously. Someone who seeks quarrels and undermines the values of other people is so dangerous that he deserves to be removed from society as quickly as possible.
The miracle of the earth swallowing up the rebels was necessary because if these people had died naturally, there would still be their bodies to bury, and that would mean a reminder of them would linger on. We learn from here that quarreling is so dangerous, that even looking at the dead body of a person who argues can spark another dispute. For example, someone might say, “Remember what that person used to say about...” Then the same argument would start all over again. Therefore G-d did not allow the possibility of there being any burial for them, and they simply vanished from the face of the earth.
This is the reason why even the possessions of these people went into the ground. Someone might pick up a needle that belonged to someone from Korach’s party and say, “That needle did a good job. I appreciate that person who gave me the needle. Perhaps he was right when he said ...” Quarrelsome people are so dangerous that we are not even allowed to have minimal contact with anything that belongs to them. There possessions must all vanish jut as the people themselves vanished.
Why did the Torah call money something that puts you on your feet, and why is this lesson taught in this specific midrash rather than someplace else? We can give an answer to this based on the fact that our Sages say that Korach was rich.5 It is apparent that they are telling us this fact to point out the dangers of wealth. A person with lots of money at his disposal, may come to feel that he has limitless power. The verse says, “And a rich man speaks with brazenness.”6 The brazenness comes from the influence that he wields because of his wealth.
This power can be a dangerous weapon if not used correctly. If a rich person has the wrong values, and he wishes to force them on others, it can lead to catastrophe. That is what happened in the case of Korach. He used his wealth to influence people to be on his side, and this was extremely perilous to the moral values of the Jewish nation.
Now it is understood why the lesson that money puts you on your feet is taught here. It comes to point out that the wealth of Korach was his pitfall, since it gave him a sense of limitless power and strengthened his brazenness. Using his money for wrong purposes brought him to jeopardize the future of the Jewish people, and ultimately cause his own death.
To quarrel is one of the worst things that can happen in marriage. It shows that there is a desire in both partners to rule over the other spouse. Each one thinks that he is unquestionably right and the other person is wrong.
Our Sages say, “A quarrel that is not for Heaven’s sake will not last.”7 By this they mean, that there is no room for quarrels unless they are for genuine spiritual purposes, things which concern Heaven. You can quarrel like Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel, whose arguments were about how to understand the Torah and how to derive precisely what it expects from us. Any other quarrel, such as those that concern material possessions, can only be harmful.
Arguments usually come about when a person criticizes his or her spouse. “You spent too much money!” “You left the house a mess!” “You came home late!” “You never have time for me!” Even though criticism can be constructive, it all depends on how it is presented. When it is said in a kind, concerned tone, it is more readily accepted than if it were to be voiced in a harsh manner. Aggressive or angry intonations alone could easily be the beginning of a quarrel.
It takes two to argue; one person simply cannot quarrel by himself. Therefore, if you see that your spouse is criticizing you harshly, do not answer with harshness. Instead answer in a quiet friendly voice, or just keep quiet. Don’t let anger take hold of you. By speaking quietly and softly, you can calm your anger, as the verse says, “A soft reply turns away anger.”8
The trick is not to win a quarrel but to avoid it altogether, since there are never winners in a quarrel. Both sides lose, since each one experiences internal tumult before the quarrel is over. So why begin something that will only cause you suffering? Everyone knows that only fools get themselves into trouble, so don’t be a fool. You should realize that a person who quarrels with his spouse all the time, lacks common sense and self-restraint.
Being humble is another trait that can save you from needless arguments. Who does not have faults? When you internalize that you are not perfect, you will not want to criticize or attack another person verbally. As our Sages say, “Decorate yourself first, then decorate others.”9 First you must repair your own faults, and only then can you go on to correct the faults of others. When you do wish to criticize your spouse, wrap your criticism in many layers of cushioning. “I just love the things you buy for the house, but ...”, “You are such a great cook, but ...”, “I appreciate so much your helping out a home, but ...”Yet if it becomes evident that, despite all the sugar coating and the flattery, your words are not going to help correct the situation, do not pursue your criticism. Even if you think it is important, if it will cause a quarrel, it is not worth mentioning.
We see that every memory of Korach vanished into the earth, so that no trace would remain of his quarrels. In marriage too, we must do everything in our power to eliminate any words or actions that may spark a quarrel.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network