Honestly, I Thought

Korach

The Torah educates by subtle instruction that we should “not to be like Korach and his company” ‎‎(Bamidbar 17:5). How does one avoid emulating Korach; what activity or behavior is this prohibition ‎limiting? Our Sages teach (Sanhedrin 110a) that this is a proscription against instigating or maintaining ‎arguments.‎

Question

Persuasive, witty, rebellious and seditious, Korach was definitely an iconic figure. Yet, the typical rabble ‎rousers sojourning in the desert were the infamous Dasan and Aviram. These two nefarious characters ‎were constantly looking for a pretext to undermine Moshe’s authority. Nevertheless Korach is selected ‎as the prototype of the great challenger, so that when the Torah chooses to warn against arguing, ‎Korach is selected as the example. Why? ‎

Answer

Perhaps by delving into this rebellion, we can learn from his motives. What was the driving force ‎propelling this man to his pathetic death and why he is chosen as the model of how not to disagree. ‎
The Mishnah in Avos tells us about Korach and his followers: ‎

Every dispute that is for the sake of Heaven is destined to endure, and that is not for the sake of Heaven is not ‎destined to endure. ‎

Which is a dispute that is for the sake of Heaven? The dispute between Hillel and Shamai. ‎
Which is a dispute that is not for the sake of Heaven? The dispute of Korach and all his company. (Avos 5:17)‎

How does an argument merit classification “for the sake of Heaven”? Korach was probably disillusioned into ‎thinking that he too was furthering the cause of Heaven. Secondly, how does the quality of endurance ‎depend on the cataloging of the debate? ‎

Rambam in his commentary to Mishnayos explains:‎

Anyone who debates not for the purpose of dismantling his friend’s reasoning but out of desire to know the ‎truth; his words will endure without ceasing.

The Rambam has given us the key to elucidating this Mishna. He provides us with two different agendas in a ‎dispute; to reach the truth or to defeat one’s partner. From these two options we are obviously led to the ‎following conclusion; an argument for the sake of truth is an argument that is for the sake of Hashem. This is ‎logically sound, Hashem’s is the ultimate truth, thus when the objective is to uncover the truth, successful or ‎otherwise, the debate will bring you closer to Hashem. ‎

With this foundation we can now connect the type of quarrel to its longevity. Hashem endures forever. He is ‎first and last and the source of all life. Association with the truth is association with the Enduring one. ‎Therefore arguments that try to uncover the truth – i.e. bring you closer to Hashem – will be arguments that ‎are destined to last. ‎

We have now exposed the root of Korach’s problem. He was a man who wasn’t searching for the truth. He ‎was trying to trump Moshe, and that would have been a great victory. Korach is the ultimate example of how ‎not to argue. In a Torah society the backbone of any debate has to be the search for truth and “not to be like ‎Korach and his company”. ‎

This is an important axiom which we need to internalize. Arguing is so inextricably linked with our national ‎nature, we are called a stiff-necked-people because we are reluctant to be convinced. In fact the finer parts of the ‎oral law are only conveyed by method of case disagreements. But at times when people resort to personal ‎barbs and stinging attacks they are signaling that there are trying to win and overpower their adversary. ‎Argue by all means, but don’t lose direction, the goal is not to defeat but to find the one and only truth. ‎

2 Comments

  1. Thanks Rabbi Apter, I liked it, and I liked the catchy title. but why ‘honestly, I THOUGHT’? Would you mind explaining? Or did you mean, Honesty, I intended…. (Might just be the difference in expression, American English and Queens English?!)

  2. Thanks Rabbi Apter, I liked it, and I liked the catchy title. but why ‘honestly, I THOUGHT’? Would you mind explaining? Or did you mean, Honestly, I intended…. (Might just be the difference in expression, American English and Queens English?!)

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