The classic all-time example of a machlokes is certainly the machlokes of Korach v’adaso. A group of 250 very prominent people, all heads of Sanhedrin, are led astray by the brilliant Korach and incited to fight none other than Moshe Rabbeinu. It’s very difficult for us to picture or properly comprehend what happened here. Don’t for a moment 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 all people of the greatest integrity. To be a member of the Sanhedrin one had to posses the greatest of qualities. It’s hard to imagine that we have any people of their stature nowadays. Yet they failed. They were won over by Korach’s brilliant arguments. Korach would surely have made one of the greatest all-time prosecutors. He probably could have argued any case and won. But let’s not go into Korach’s case against Moshe but only discuss one very important aspect of it.
There is one person that narrowly escaped being dragged into the ground with the rest of them and that was On ben Peles, the nossi of Shevet Reuven.
The Gemora ( Sanhedrin 99 ) tells us that the credit actually is due 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 see how she extricated him from the mess and rescued him. Maybe it can teach us a lesson on how to keep out of a machlokes. We sure can use all the good advise 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 ingenious simple argument. A question we must always ask ourselves before we get involved in any machlokes. What do we stand to benefit or 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 allegiance to Korach. He could no longer retract. A shevua was a shevua and could not be broken!
“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 right here and I will save you from their clutches.”
She gave him a few drinks too many and he fell into a deep sleep. Now he couldn’t be held responsible for his actions. He was dead drunk!
She thereupon removed her tichel, loosened her hair and sat herself down at the entrance of the tent. She knew her customers. Every time one of the “frumies” would come to get On and would see her sitting so untzniyusdik, he would run in the opposite direction. She must have enjoyed watching them run.
By the time On awoke, 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 these are the very same things that cause 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 proclaimed as high priest, an open form of nepotism. Then he appoints Aaron’s two children 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 represents! He even demands that the levi himself separate a share to his brother the kohen. He even demands that all of you shave off all your hair. How degrading. Certainly Hashem would never have demanded that people be degraded in such a manner. And why hasn’t he given you anything?”
Her arguments contained all the ingredients for machlokes. Jealousy 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, “Hakina v’hataavah v’hakavod motziin es haadom min haolam – Jealousy, lust, and honor, cause the demise of a man in this world.”
Watch out very carefully for any of these three nasty traits. Any single one of them is powerful enough to breed machlokes. No machlokes is without them. They have fanned the flames ofmachlokes since the beginning of mankind starting with Kayin and Hevel, and still continues to do so nowadays.
If you study this story carefully than we’ll learn how to avoid these three dangerous traits as one stays away from deadly radiation. Only then will we be sure that we, too, will not be embroiled in the dreadful horrors of machlokes.