The classic all-time example of a machlokes is certainly the machlokes of Korach v’adaso. A group of very great people – heads of Sanhedrin – are led astray by the brilliant Korach and are incited to fight none other than Moshe Rabbeinu.
It’s very hard for us to picture or properly comprehend what happened here. Don’t underestimate the great intelligence and righteousness of Korach’s backers. Don’t be misled into thinking that we today are any smarter than they were. They were people of extreme integrity. To be a member of the Sanhedrin one had to have the greatest of qualities. (The requirement for rabbinical ordination then was far more difficult that it is today.)
It’s hard to imagine that we have any people of their great stature nowadays. Yet they failed. They were won over by Korach’s brilliant arguments. Korach could surely have made one of the greatest all-time lawyers. He probably could have argued any case and won. But let’s not go into Korach’s case against Moshe. We’ll just discuss one very important aspect of it.
There is one person that narrowly missed being dragged into the ground with the rest of them, and that one is On ben Peles, the nossi of Shevet Reuven.
The Gemorah (Sanhedrin 99) tells us that the credit goes to his very clever wife who saved his life. If not for her, he would have suffered the same fate they all did. Let’s see how she did it. Let’s find out how she extricated him from the mess and rescued him. Maybe it can teach us a lesson on how to keep out of a machlokess. We sure can use all the good advice we can get!
On’s wife’s argument to him was, “What are you personally going to benefit from this entire fight? Are you going to become a kohen? Are you going to become a levi? What personal gain will this fight get you? No matter which side wins, you’re the loser. Why are you getting yourself involved in something from which you have absolutely nothing to gain?
What an ingeniously simple argument! A question we must always ask ourselves before we get involved in any machlokes. What do we stand to gain? If we really examine this question properly, we’ll find that 99 percent of the time we have absolutely no reason to get involved. The machlokes will lead us nowhere except where it led Korach.
On told his wife he had already made a commitment. He had sworn his loyalty to Korach. He could no longer retract. A shevua was a shevua!
“Let me handle this problem,” she told him. “I know these men are extremely holy. I know exactly how to handle them. You just stay here and I will save you from their clutches.”
She gave him a few too many cups of wine to drink, and he fell into a deep sleep. Now he couldn’t be held responsible for his actions. He was drunk!
She removed her tichel (sheitlach weren’t in style yet), loosened her hair and sat herself at the entrance of the house. She knew her customers. Every time one of the frummies would come to get On and he would see her sitting untzniusdik he would run in the opposite direction. She must have enjoyed watching them run.
By the time On woke, it was all over. Korach v’adaso were gone.
On the other hand, let’s take a look at what caused the entire machlokes. Because as we’ll see, these are the very same things that cause a machlokes to this present day.
The Gemorah tells us that Korach’s wife was behind it all. She instigated the whole fight. Well, at least women are not discriminated against. They are given the credit for the good as well as for the bad!
Korach’s wife gave him the following arguments: “Just take a look at what your first cousin Moshe does. First he proclaims himself king. Then he has his very own brother made high priest; an open form of nepotism. Aharon’s two children are appointed as their father’s assistants. Then he has the audacity to demand that all the Jews give him and his brother a share of all their crops. What outright greed this all symbolizes! He even demands that the levi himself separate a share for his brother, the kohen. He even demands that all of you shave off all your hair. How degrading! Certainly Hashem would not have commanded such a degrading commandment. Why hasn’t he given you anything?”
Her arguments contained all the ingredients for machlokes. Jealously for what someone else has. Desire and lust for what is not yours. A demand for personal honor. These three common denominators can be found in every machlokes. No wonder, then, that the Mishna says, “Hakin’ah, hat’avah v’hakavod motzi’in es ha’adam min ha’olam” – “Jealously, lust and seeking honor cause the demise of man from this world.”
Watch out very carefully for any of these three traits. Any single one of them is powerful enough to breed machlokes. No machlokes is without them. They have fanned the flame of machlokes since the beginning of mankind, starting from Kayin (Cain) and Hevel (Abel), and still continues to do so.
If you study this story very carefully you’ll learn how to avoid these three dangerous traits as one stays away from deadly radiation. Only then will you be sure that you too will not be embroiled in the dreadful horrors of machlokes.