FedTalks Parshas Korach – Rabbi J Roodyn – Transcript
In this week’s sedra Moshe Rabeinu faces the greatest challenge to his leadership. “Vayikach Korach”- and Korach takes. Or, as the Targum says, “ve’ispaleg Korach”, and Korach causes division. What happened is, he has got a great claim. “Ki kol ha’edah kulam kedoshim”- the entire community is holy. For the many, not the few. “Besochom Hashem”- Hashem is with them. So why are you raising yourself up, Moshe and Aharon, appointing yourselves and your relatives to key positions? The context of this parshah is certainly coming in the backdrop of parshas Shelach Lecha. Suddenly, they have had a national disaster. Moshe Rabeinu is for the first time vulnerable. Korach has been biding his time until now, when he seizes the moment to sow the seeds of discord amongst the bnei Yisroel. Surely, what is wrong with a leadership-challenge, what is wrong with debate? Surely all of mishnayos and gemorah are full of machlokes! If machlokes is such a bad thing, we shouldn’t learn it! Walk into a beis medrash, they are going cherev al habadim. We are fighting with milchemta shel Torah. We are fighting with a passion for what we believe in.
The mishna in Pirkei Avos, and I always find it ironic that it is a machlokes which mishna it is, 5th perek towards the end, mishna 17 or is it a little bit later, Mishna 20, says that a machlokes leshem shomayim, an argument for the sake of Heaven, that is “sofo lehiskayem”, that will last forever. But a machlokes shelo leshem Shomayim, a machlokes that is not for the sake of Heaven, that will not endure. What is a machlokes leshem shomayim? Machlokes Beis Shamay and Beis Hillel. A machlokes shelo leshem Shomayim is Korach vechol adoso.
Beis Shamay and Beis Hillel argue, but isn’t it interesting, we study their words till today, whether we accept their opinion or whether we reject their opinion. They have a voice at the table. Maybe the reason is because it is not just that they’re arguing, but they are also listening. In fact, we know that the halacha follows Beis Hillel because we always see Beis Shamay’s opinion first. If we are mevakshei emes, if we are looking for the truth, we have to listen to what the other person is saying.
In fact, the second of the 48 kinyonei Torah is “beshmiyas haozen”, to listen. It is not just enough to have “betalmud”, which is the first one, to learn, but also to listen. When we’re learning, when our chavrusa, when our study partner, proposes a theory, offers an understanding, it’s about listening to what they have to say, taking it on board, before we offer our own opinion. We never find anywhere that Korach is listening to Moshe Rabeinu. It is about him getting his point across. Machlokes shelo leshem Shomayim is about me ultimately, says Korach. Yes, I might have these slogans, I might come across as a populous leader, but he is really a demagogue. He is really someone that sees it all being about himself and he is just utilising the people to get what he wants. Machlokes shelo leshem Shomayim is coming from a corrupt place. It is coming from a place where it is about ego and self, rather than it being about Hakodosh Baruch Hu and the truth. And when Moshe Rabeinu’s leadership is threatened in that way they have to meet their downfall in a way which is dramatic, in a way which is spectacular, because ultimately the Torah that we have is Toras Moshe. The Torah that we learn every single day, comes from a mesorah, a tradition, an unbroken chain. And we have to be sure of the integrity of the mesorah. And therefore, whether to be some sense of ‘what is in it for me’, whether to be coming from an impure place of ego, that would invalidate everything that the Torah stands for. And therefore Hakodosh Baruch Hu creates a nes and Korach meets his downfall in this miraculous fashion. As if to say, yes we can argue, yes there can be multiple voices, and that is okay. But it has to be leshem shomayim, without a personal agenda. But only with an agenda of really, genuinely looking for the truth. And being able to listen to others, before we offer our own opinion, in order to ensure that we are conducting our discussions in a way which is befitting of those that are indeed mevakshei emes, rather than those that are just in it for themselves.