Late one night, a tiny spark appears, falling into a pile of brush. The brush ignites, producing a small, almost harmless flame. The flame grows, and soon all the brush is alive with dancing fire. But this once harmless flame refuses to be tamed. It spreads rapidly in all directions, lighting everything with which it comes in contact.
Late one night, a tiny spark appears, falling into a pile of brush. The brush ignites, producing a small, almost harmless flame. The flame grows, and soon all the brush is alive with dancing fire. But this once harmless flame refuses to be tamed. It spreads rapidly in all directions, lighting everything with which it comes in contact. The fire continues, scorching, charring, and utterly destroying everything. It is now beyond control and all attempts to extinguish it are futile. It will leave a pained scar of disaster where there was once a peaceful night.
After Korach began his dispute with Moses in this week's Torah portion, we are told of an episode in which Moses sends for Datan and Aviram, Korach's two main followers, in an attempt to peacefully resolve their qualms. They reply, "Even if you would gouge out our eyes, we shall not go up" (Numbers 16:15). Rashi, the fundamental Torah commentator, explains these verses and shows us the two converse character traits demonstrated here by Moses and Korach's followers. We learn from Moses' actions that one should not maintain a dispute. Datan and Aviram had already been warned by Moses that what they were doing was wrong. Moses could have left them to the horrible punishment and death that was coming to them, yet he still went out of his way in an attempt to deal with them peacefully.
While Moses' actions demonstrate a high level of peace-seeking, Datan and Aviram's response represents the exact opposite. The Chofetz Chaim, the saintly scholar and leader of world Jewry at the turn of the century, points out from the rebels' response how far the fire of contention can rage. They were so caught up in their argumentation, and were so vicious and negative towards Moses, that they reached a point where they "no longer heard with their ears that which they said with their mouths."
In truth, there is no logical reason why they should not have gone to speak with Moses. He was trying to work things out with them and address their complaints. However, since they were so involved in arguing, they were no longer thinking straight and they continued their dispute just for the sake of arguing. This is why they responded, "Even if you would gouge out our eyes, we shall not go up" - an extreme response to a simple request for a meeting.
While Moses and Korach's followers represented opposites in this situation - one positive and peaceful, the other negative and hostile - the Torah's response to how we should act in situations like these shows similar diversity. After Korach's rebellion is ground to a halt, the Torah commands us not to be like Korach and his followers by causing, promoting, and contributing to argument and strife (Numbers 17:5). We are further told in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers 1:12) that we should be the students of Aaron by emulating his trait of loving peace and pursuing peace.
We see how the Torah looks down upon those who cause strife, and conversely looks up to and encourages those who seek peace, bestowing upon them tremendous blessings. Actively promoting peace is listed as one of the actions a person can do for which he will receive direct benefit in this world and reward in the World to Come (Mishnah Tractate Peah 1:1).
Promoting peace, however, is not limited to the disagreements of others. It also applies to relationships that are close to home. Refraining from argument in one's daily interactions with others is equally important as is working towards settling arguments in someone else's relationships. In fact, the commentators tell us that one who has good reasons to argue with another, yet refrains, is extremely praiseworthy. Maintaining peace can be difficult at times, but we must because it is so important.
Like a fire, an argument spreads and grows, destroying relationships, livelihoods, communities, and anything else that gets in its path. This is the moral of the inferno mentioned at the beginning of this article, and that is what was exemplified by Korach and his followers. What began as a small disagreement based upon improper motivations, grew into a huge, uncontrollable fire which refused to be extinguished. It is this type of fire that is so devastating and which we are commanded to keep away from. Rather, we are encouraged to promote a peaceful existence. This may require forgiving our egos or giving of ourselves, but nonetheless it must be done. This is the lesson that we learn from Moses and Aaron. Moses went out of his way to bring Datan and Aviram back peacefully, and Aaron was known for his active involvement in pursuing peace.
This applies to all kinds of relationships between all people. The more reason we have to be involved in a dispute, the more praiseworthy we are for keeping out of them. By doing this, we will benefit with friendships and peace in this world, and with eternal reward in the World to Come.
Mendel Starkman, a native Atlantan, is attending the Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim in Jerusalem.
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