“The Devastating Impact of Dispute”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat Korach, we read of the rebellion of Korach and his cohorts against Moses, Aaron and G-d.

In Numbers 16:3, the Torah records that Korach and his followers gathered together against Moses and Aaron and cried out to them: רַב לָכֶם, כִּי כָל הָעֵדָה כֻּלָּם קְדֹשִׁים וּבְתוֹכָם השׁם, וּמַדּוּעַ תִּתְנַשְּׂאוּ עַל קְהַל השׁם, It is too much for you! For the entire assembly–all of them–are holy and G-d is among them; why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of G-d?

According to the commentaries, Korach’s complaint was that Moses had usurped all the power, making himself king and installing his brother as the High Priest, leaving the people emasculated and powerless.

When Moses heard this, scripture tells us (Numbers 16:4),וַיִּפֹּל עַל פָּנָיו, he, Moses, fell on his face. Moses then told Korach and his followers, Numbers 16:5,בֹּקֶר, וְיֹדַע השׁם אֶת אֲשֶׁר לוֹ, וְאֶת הַקָּדוֹשׁ וְהִקְרִיב אֵלָיו, וְאֵת אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר בּוֹ יַקְרִיב אֵלָיו, in the morning G-d will make known the one who is His own and who is holy, and He will draw him close to Himself and whomever He will choose, He will draw close to Himself.

Rashi clearly states that Moses fell on his face because of the dispute. It is not that Moses was distressed that as a result of Korach’s charges against him, he would lose his own personal prestige. Moses was distressed because he realized that he would have little chance to gain forgiveness for the Israelites, since this was the fourth time that the people had corrupted their ways and had sinned against G-d.

The people first sinned with the incident of the Golden Calf. Then the מִתְאֹנְנִים Mit’oh’n’nim, the people who were looking for any excuse to fight, began to quarrel. This was followed by the scouts who came back with an evil report about the land of Canaan, and now the rebellion of Korach.

When Korach began his dispute, Moses’ hands became weak and he no longer had the strength to plead on behalf of Israel. Rashi cites the parable of the king’s son who acted disrespectfully toward his father, but each time the prince’s friend placated the king on the son’s behalf. When the son acted improperly the fourth time, the friend said, “How long can I bother the king? Perhaps he will no longer accept placation from me.”

Why is the dispute of Korach any worse than the other three rebellions of the people: the Golden Calf, the Murmurers and the spies? Each of these was a terrible affront to G-d’s dignity, yet the Al-mighty forgave the people.

One might assume that “dispute” is just one bad trait among many that are considered improper. However, dispute really is regarded as far worse and far more lethal and destructive, than other bad traits.

Rabbi Chaim Halevi Pardes, author of Min Ha’Maayan ahl HaTorah, in his weekly analysis of the parasha, claims that there is a basic difference between the essential nature of the People of Israel and the nature of the other nations of the world. The nations of the world consist of groups of people who band together to become a single nation, and even after they join into a single nation they remain as individuals in the new collective.

The Jewish people are just the opposite. Because the People of Israel each draw their inspiration from a single collective communal soul, their unity is their most salient feature. Although they are also comprised of individuals, they continuously nurture from the same original collective soul of the People of Israel. We therefore find that the unity of Israel and the love of one Jew for another and drawing other Jews who are distant near, together constitute an essential quality of the Jewish people, without which, the Jewish people become disconnected.

Because of the special nature of the Jewish people, we learn that dispute is not only a bad quality, it is destructive of Jewish unity and destructive of the soul of the people. In fact, it stands in stark contrast to the idea of the statement, attributed to G-d, “Who is like My people Israel, a singular nation on earth?” (Talmud Brachot 6a, Shabbat Mincha prayer)

That is why G-d punished Korach and his followers so severely and swiftly, creating a new form of death, when the earth opened up and swallowed the disputants. Those who cause dispute destroy the soul of the people, and lose all rights to exist, together with their wives, their children, and their students. Rashi, in Numbers 16:6 says that because Korach attempted to destroy the unity of Israel, Moses said to them, “Among the ways of others, there are many rites and many clergymen, and they do not all gather together in one house of worship. We have none but one G-d, the Al-mighty, one Ark, one Torah, one altar and one High Priest. Yet you 250 men seek the high priesthood?”

The sin of those who worshiped the Golden Calf, the Murmurers and the spies, constituted a direct rebellion against the link between the people and the Al-mighty. That was bad enough, but not nearly as bad as the dispute of Korach, which challenged the unity of the People of Israel, trying to disconnect them from the collective soul of Israel.

That is why Moses was able to defend the people in the first three instances and achieve forgiveness for them, reconnecting them with G-d. But at the rebellion of Korach, Moses lost his strength and was not capable of helping. So he fell on his face.

May you be blessed.