Rabbi David Rifkin
Former Training Coordinator at Torah Mitzion
As we examine the intriguing episode as detailed in Parshat Korach, I would like to pose the following questions: do we spend our average daily life surrounded and influenced mainly by positive people or negative people? Do we encounter complaints, anger and frowns, or compliments happiness and smiles? Is our overall attitude like that of my eternally optimistic mother who always embedded in her children the approach of ‘it could be worse’, or do we draw immediate gloomy conclusions from the smallest of drawbacks in the journey of life; Do we spend our lives making those close to us feel comfortable in our company, or do we spend considerable energy ensuring that there are, very few people, who feel comfortable, at all, in our company!
Regarding positive energy, we can learn some fine lessons from our mekorot.”Hillel omer heve metalmidav shel Aharon-ohev Shalom verodef shalom” This Mishna in Avot teaches us a beautiful positive attitude namely that Aharon was always in the pursuit of peace, always attempting to prevent disputes. A further example of positive energy can be learnt from Gemara Brachot 17 where we are told about the way in which Rav Yochanan would greet people. “Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai always greeted people first [before they could greet him], including the Gentile in the marketplace- afeelu nochree bashuk” The above examples guide us in the path of positive thinking, utilising positive energy.
Korach, however is the prime example of negative energy. As the Mishna in Avot succinctly summarises it, the Korach rebellion epitomised machloket with no potential positive outcome-
“Any dispute that is for the sake of Heaven – will have a constructive outcome; but one that is not for the sake of Heaven will not have a constructive outcome. What sort of dispute was for the sake of Heaven? The dispute between Hillel and Shamai. And which was not for the sake of Heaven? The dispute of Korach and his entire company. (Mishnah, Masechet Avot 5:20)
The Mishnah here distinguishes between two famous historical controversies. One is the argument between Hillel and Shamai, which the Mishnah defines as “dispute that is for the sake of Heaven”. The other one is the dispute of Korach and his people, which the Mishnah defines as a “dispute that is not for the sake of Heaven”. A close look in the way the Mishnah states the dispute of Korach raises the obvious question: why didn’t the Mishnah mention the other side of the dispute of Koarch. It is only “his entire company” which is mentioned? Also the Malbim deals with another issue. How will we know if we face an argument which is “for the sake of Heaven” or not?
Chazal taught us that when we face a “dispute for the sake of Heaven” each side will be united for itself, since they all have one major goal – the sake of Heaven. But when we face a “dispute not for the sake of Heaven” but for the sake of one’s ego, or for the sake of honor, then you won’t find any unity. Accordingly we can understand why the Mishnah mentions the people who came with Korach and not the ones he actually argued against. The reason for that is because Korach and his people were fighting between themselves, to the extent that “the dispute of Korach and his entire company” was so negative, that it resulted in in-fighting and quarrels amongst Korach and his followers.
Parshat Korach should serve as a lesson that we must examine our overall attitude to every facet of our lives under the positive/negative “microscope”: are we spending most of our energy on negative pursuits or are we hopefully busy using and abundance of positive energy!