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Torah Attitude: Parashas Korach: Will it make a difference ten years down the road?
Korach and his followers were punished in unique ways. "Whoever pursues a quarrel transgresses a prohibition. As it says, 'One should not be like Korach and his assembly.'" Nothing is as destructive as quarrels and disputes and nothing can compare to people who live together in peace. "[The Torah's] ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace." The vast majority of quarrels and disputes start up because one party did not give the other party the benefit of the doubt. Before reacting to any wrongdoing, one should consider whether this would make a difference ten years down the road. Anger is an outgrowth of vanity. Any ability or quality a person is blessed with is given to that person for a purpose and obligates that person to utilize the blessing in a proper way. Moses, the greatest prophet of all times, was at the same time the most humble person on earth. A person can elevate himself to deal with a monetary issue without making it into a personal issue, thereby avoiding getting into a personal quarrel. "The whole world exists in the merit of the ones who close their mouths at the time of a quarrel." So much sickness is a direct consequence of disputes between families, neighbours and acquaintances. The Torah teaches the way of pleasantness and peace.
Punishing Korach and his followers
This week's Torah portion deals primarily with the revolt of Korach and his followers against Moses and Aaron. Korach and his followers were punished in unique ways. First, Korach as well as Dathan and Aviram and their families were punished when the earth opened up and swallowed them. After that, the two hundred fifty leaders, who went along with Korach, were punished by being consumed in a fire.
Do not be like Korach
G'd told Moses to instruct Eliazar, the son of Aaron, to collect the fire pans used by Korach's followers and to make them into copper sheets to cover the altar. The Torah concludes this tragic episode and says (Bamidbar 17:5) "[This shall be] a reminder for the Children of Israel, so that no stranger who is not from the offspring of Aaron shall get close to bring the smoke of the incense before G'd, and one should not be like Korach and his assembly." The Talmud (Sanhedrin 110a) comments on this: "Whoever pursues a quarrel transgresses a prohibition. As it says, 'One should not be like Korach and his assembly.'"
Blessing of peace
Nothing is as destructive as quarrels and disputes and nothing can compare to people who live together in peace. This is most beautifully expressed in the last Mishnah of the Talmud (Uktzin 3:12): "G'd did not find a vessel containing blessing for the Jewish people but peace. As it says (Tehillim 29:11) 'G'd will give strength to His nation, G'd will bless His nation with peace.'" This is also the concluding part of the priestly blessings of the Kohanim, as well as the final blessing in our daily prayer.
Torah's paths are peace
The question is how do we achieve living in peace, first of all with our spouses, and further in our communities with our neighbours and everybody else around us? The Torah teaches us how to live in harmony and peace with everyone. As we quote King Solomon whenever we return the Torah scroll to its ark and say, (Mishlei 3:17) "Its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace." Whoever follows the instructions of the Torah will avoid falling into the pitfalls of quarrels.
Benefit of the doubt
So what is the Torah's recipe for living in harmony? It can be summed up in one sentence: (Vayikra 19:15) "In righteousness you shall judge your fellow." The Talmud (Sanhedrin 34b) comments on this: "You shall always give your fellow being the benefit of the doubt." The vast majority of quarrels and disputes start up because one party did not give the other party the benefit of the doubt. People often assume that others have bad, or even evil, intentions and therefore respond accordingly. The truth is that, in most cases, the offenders did not realize how they caused discomfort or even harm to their fellow being, and definitely did not have the intent of what they are being accused of. If a person could get himself to follow the commandment of the Torah of judging his fellow human being favourably, he would save himself so much aggravation and experience a much better and pleasant life. So much gossiping could be avoided with this attitude to life. What is there to gossip about if the other person did not really do anything wrong? On the other hand, when a person feels mistreated or wronged in any way, and goes and tells one's spouse what happened, it is well known how much fuel this adds to the fire. This is exactly what happened to Korach who related to his wife how he felt he was being mistreated by Moses, and she egged him on to start the revolt.
Even in a situation where a person has been dealt with wrongly, one must control one's anger and avoid pursuing the quarrel as far as possible. My late uncle, Mr. Jacob Kahn, once said that before reacting to any wrongdoing, one should consider whether this would make a difference ten years down the road. If it does not, it is not worthwhile getting involved. As a rule of thumb, this is a good starting point. However, the real issue is whether a person can control his anger and thereby avoid the quarrel. The Ramban, in his famous letter to his son, elaborates on the evils of anger and writes that anger is a very serious character flaw that can bring a person to commit many sins. To mention just the most common ones, first of all, the person harbours hatred against a fellow Jew, and easily comes to speak evil about the other person. If the opportunity arises, he may take revenge or put the other person to public shame. One sin leads to another and it is not uncommon when two people quarrel that they do acts that desecrate the name of G'd.
The Kabbalists explain that anger is an outgrowth of vanity (see Shaarei Kedushah 1:2 by Rabbi Chaim Vital). A humble person will not get offended as he does not expect to be honoured, and therefore does not feel any necessity to quarrel with whoever shows him lack of respect. The Mishnah says in Pirkei Avos (4:10) that a person should be extremely humble with every single person. It is understandable and relatively easy to be humble when one deals with a person who is superior to oneself, whether in intellect or wealth. But how can one be expected to be humble with someone who is clearly inferior to oneself? Says the Ramban (ibid), "Every person should be greater that yourself in your eyes. If he is more wise or wealthy than yourself, you should honour him. And if he is poor [in wisdom or in assets] and you are wealthier or wiser than he, consider that you are more obligated than he and [therefore] he is more righteous than you."
The Ramban gives us very clear instructions how we can always feel humble in the company of any other human being. First of all we must realize that all our abilities or qualities were given to us for a purpose, and we are obligated to utilize them to their full potential. Secondly, we must train ourselves to look at any other person as being superior to us. This superiority could either manifest itself with the other person's additional blessings or with the other person doing a better job fulfilling his obligation in life, according to his limited ability. With this attitude we can tolerate a lot more from everyone around us. In most cases, we get upset and angry as we feel that we are being treated with a lack of respect, according to our status. But viewing our self as being less accomplished than the people around us will help us not to get angry and upset. This does not mean to say that we should go around with an inferiority complex or a low self-esteem. However, we should get accustomed to look at other people's accomplishments at the same time as we concentrate and focus on our own duties.
Most humble Moses
Moses was the greatest prophet of all times, as it says, (Devarim 34:10) "Never again has there arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses". He is also described as the most humble person on earth, as it says (Bamidbar 12:3) "And the man Moses was very humble, more than any other person on the face of the earth." On one hand, Moses was very aware of his status; on the other hand, he also knew how his special abilities obligated him more than anybody else. His greatness was the direct cause of his humbleness.
Obviously, there are situations where a person is entitled to respond to an offence, including specifically, when a person has been cheated or dealt with incorrectly in monetary issues. However, a person can elevate oneself to deal with a monetary issue without making it into a personal issue. In this way, one avoids getting into a personal quarrel.
Close their mouth
The Talmud repeatedly praises people who manage to stay out of quarrels. As it says, (Shabbos 88b) "The ones who are being embarrassed and do not embarrass others, they hear their shame and do not answer back, they fulfill their obligations out of love for G'd, and accept their affliction [of shame], of them it says, (Judges 5:31) 'The ones who love Him will shine like the sun coming out in all its power.'" Not only do these people have a special merit in the future, but even now their sterling conduct benefits them and the whole world, as it says (Chulin 89a) "The whole world exists in the merit of the ones who close their mouth at the time of a quarrel."
How many families have been destroyed because of family feuds? And how many children go through untold suffering and agony due to their parents' quarrels destroying their marriage? So much sickness is a direct consequence of disputes between families, neighbours and acquaintances. The recipe is at our doorsteps as the Torah teaches us how to live a life of pleasantness and peace. But it is up to us to follow the Torah's instructions.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network