I hope this message finds you well and in good health.
On the Shabbat of Saturday, June 27th, we will be reading Parashat Korach. It very much remains a possibility that our weekly Shabbat minyan might not have reconvened by that time due to continued health concerns. Nevertheless, I would continue to encourage everyone to keep abreast of the annual Torah reading cycle by studying the parasha in your homes throughout the week, and particularly on Shabbat.
Parashat Korach revolves around the rebellion initiated and fomented by Korach against the leadership of Moshe Rabbeinu, Aharon Hakohen, and their immediate family. While a superficial reading of this incident might lend the impression that Korach's cause was just and that his intentions were pure, it is when we turn to the Rabbinic exegesis in the Midrash and other sources that Korach's true colors are duly exposed. Indeed, the Mishna in Pirkei Avot (chapter five) points to Korach's rebellion as the quintessential "machloket sh'einah l'shem Shamayim: "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 Shammai. And which was not for the sake of Heaven? The dispute of Korach and his entire company." Although Hillel and Shammai had disputes regarding Halacha, they were concerned not with triumph, but with a sincere search for the truth in the exposition of Torah. Whereas Korach's dispute was merely a rebellion against authority, and accordingly met a tragic end. The Halachic disputes between Hillel and Shammai, and the students of the rabbinical academies that they founded, are legion. Their debates as to the proper course of Jewish ideology and praxis run throughout the corpus of the entire Talmud. And yet, the rabbis of Pirkei Avot accept their debates as proper and just. More than that: their debates are even referred to as "for the sake of Heaven"! How are we to understand this?
Pirkei Avot is teaching us an important lesson. When engaging in a debate, it is not just the validity of the argument of the two sides that is important, and not even so much as the tone that the two disputants assume, as much as the INTENTION with which the respective parties enter the fray. Hillel and Shammai were not searching for their own glory and benefit in their numerous instances of machloket. Rather, they were endeavoring to arrive at the proper will of the Torah in each and every situation. As such, their debates have stood the test of time as prime examples of two camps striving together to arrive at the Divine truth. Korach's rebellion was the exact opposite. Korach's true intent was to elevate himself and those around him, and to promote their own selfish political interests. If the means to do so were to initiate a coup against Moshe Rabbeinu's authority- then so be it. This is the very definition of "machloket sh'einah l'shem Shamayim." He and his co-conspirators were accordingly punished, and their machloket proved not to endure. Life is full of conflict and strife. As much as we would like to avoid it, it is simply a fact of life. It is not necessarily inherently wrong to engage in a dispute or a debate with a fellow. Some of the greatest strides that a person takes in life often stem from the constructive criticism of an acquaintance. Being in the environment of friends, coworkers, relatives and spouses can serve to challenge us in a positive way, as their constructive criticisms cause us to examine and reexamine the propriety of our attitudes, actions and thoughts. It is entirely possible that some of these conflicts may be classified as a "machloket l'shem Shamayim". The all- important question is: what is my INTENTION in entering into a debate? Are my intentions pure and holy, like those of Hillel and Shammai? Or the opposite, like those of Korach and his assembly?
May the Almighty enlighten our eyes so that we may discern the true motivation and intention in all of our actions.
All the Best,
Rabbi Peretz Robinson