For Heaven’s Sake
At the end of the day, one can have a disagreement for only oneof two reasons. Hopefully, what is at stake is the sacred pursuit of truth, be it in an academic, theoretical realm, or in the implementationof some beneficial action, small or large. Alternatively, and far moreignobly, there is the quest for domination, intellectual or actual. In thefinal analysis, it can really only be one or the other.For our Sages, the debates which Hillel and Shammai had withone another were the paragon of legitimate, purposeful, andconstructive disagreement, ‘
makhloket l’shem shamayim
, a disputefor the sake of Heaven. On the other hand, the rebellion which Korachand his followers launched against Moshe and Aharon serves as theposter child for reprehensible divisiveness, as the mishnah continues,‘what is a dispute which is not for the sake of Heaven? The dispute of Korach and his followers.’What is of greatest moment, of course, is our self-assessment, asit pertains to circumstances of discord. Sometimes, even if we havethe insight to know that we’ve become embroiled in some kind of power play, extraction is a different matter altogether, shackled as weso often are by the bonds of ego. Human nature being what it is, thelimiting step is most often the first one, simply identifying when ourego is the driving force. Indeed, as our Sages noted long ago, ‘aperson sees everyone’s blemishes, except his own
.’With characteristic understatement and subtlety, Chazal gave usan excellent litmus test for making precisely this assessment. Asnoted by many, the formulation ought to have been, ‘the disputebetween Korach and his followers, against Moshe and Aharon.’Structural parallelism clearly dictates that both parties to the disputeought to have been referenced. Why, then, did Chazal so pointedlyomit any mention of Moshe or Aharon?It seems to me that the answer is equal parts simple andpoignant. Korach and his followers, aggrieved at perceived slights of various natures, had no interest in anything Moshe or Aharon had tosay. Moshe and Aharon were obstacles to Korach and his followers’hunger for power, prestige, and domination. In Buberian terms, thedispute was all I-it and no I-thou. Small wonder, then, that Moshe andAharon do not appear in the mishnah; there was no exchange of ideasto be had, and no openness to an alternative perspective. In anabsolute sense, Korach could not see Moshe or Aharon, and did notwish to do so.In productive disputes, both parties should ultimately be gratefulfor the presence of the other. If one is truly interested in finding thetruth, it can only be helpful to have the opposing voice represented,
Mishnah Avot, Chapter 5.
Mishnah Nega’im, Chapter 2.