What Is My Motivation Here?
(לָכֵ֗ן אַתָּה֙ וְכָל־עֲדָ֣תְךָ֔ הַנֹּעָדִ֖ים עַל־יְהוָ֑ה וְאַהֲרֹ֣ן מַה־ה֔וּא כִּ֥י תלונו [תַלִּ֖ינוּ] עָלָֽיו׃ (במדבר ט”ז, י”א
Truly, you and your entire company are banded together against the Lord, for who is Aaron that you should rail against him?” (Bemidbar 16:11)
There’s a lot of argument out there right now. A lot of debate, a lot of dissension, a lot of righteous indignation and fighting. Every time we look beyond our doors we see the heated discourse over masks and Black Lives Matter and elections and schools reopening and statues coming down and flags being flown. I feel like everywhere I’ve looked in the past few weeks and months, all I’ve seen is argument.
The Hebrew word for argument is machloket, and the very concept of machloket is central to this week’s parsha. In Parshat Korach, a man named Korach leads a populist rebellion against Moses and Aaron. Korach says that after all, all of the Israelites are holy, so why should holiness and power be concentrated in the hands of Moses, Aaron, and the Kohanim? Ultimately, Korach and his followers are swallowed up by the earth – God dramatically issuing a ruling in the dispute.
While Parshat Korach is (I would argue!) the most interesting parsha in the entire Torah, and there are a zillion things I could talk about from it, I want to focus on the very concept of machloket.
In Pirkei Avot, the Mishnah sets out to teach us about the difference between machloket l’shem shamayim – a disagreement for the sake of heaven – and machloket shelo l’shem shamayim – a disagreement that is not for the sake of heaven. The Mishnah teaches: Every disagreement that is for the sake of heaven – it is destined to endure. But if it is not for the sake of heaven – it is not destined to endure. What is an example of an argument for the sake of heaven? The argument of Hillel and Shammai. What is an example of an argument not for the sake of heaven? The argument of Korach and all of his followers.
What is the difference between those disagreements that are for the sake of heaven and those that are not? Commentaries on the Mishnah distill down to three points: 1) One or more of the people disagreeing are not being intellectually honest. No evidence could ever change their mind. 2) One or more of the people disagreeing devolves to insults. Or 3) One or more of the people disagreeing are motivated by something other than discovering the truth.
As we take our 25 hours of Shabbat to reflect, to recover from the week, and to strengthen ourselves for the week ahead, may we internalize the lessons of Korach in order to go back out into the world with a healthy approach towards the disagreements that surround us.
Questions for the Shabbat Table:
- What is the difference between a disagreement for the sake of heaven and one that is not for the sake of heaven? If someone is arguing with you, how can you tell which type of argument they are trying to have?
- What are ways that we can deal with arguments that are not for the sake of heaven?