A Lesson A Day
18 Kislev, 5772/ December 14, 2011
SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM
Day 78 – Quest for Truth or Personal Feud
The Mishnah (Avos 5:20) contrasts machlokes l’sheim shamayim, a dispute for the sake of Heaven, with one that is not. The former is epitomized by the disputes of Hillel and Shammai whose differing views in matters of halacha, Jewish Law, are reverently studied and pondered generation after generation as eternal components of the Oral Law. The latter is epitomized by the dispute of Korach, whose personal feud against Moshe Rabbeinu earned him an untimely death and eternal dishonor. As the Chofetz Chaim notes in his preface to Sefer Chofetz Chaim, one whose sinful talk fuels strife transgresses the prohibition, “that he not be like Korach and his assembly” (Bamidbar 17:5, see Sanhedrin 110a).
To the Jew, intellectual disagreement in a common search for truth is an integral part of life. As a spiritual, thinking people, Jews are forever involved in discussion of ideas.
Conversely, personal bickering, jealousy, and competition are signs of immaturity and weakness. They have no place in the world of the Jew.
The difficulty, however, lies in our tendency to transform every dispute into an ideological one. Korach, too, came with a philosophy: that all Jews are equally holy, and thus there is no justification for one family, Aharon and his Kohanim descendants, to be above everyone else. The sages teach that Korach’s argument was rooted in jealousy, resulting from his having been passed over for the position of prince of his Levite family.
Before embarking on an ideological campaign against others, one must ask himself: “Am I honestly promoting the cause of truth, or am I involved in a personal feud disguised as an ideological debate?”
Ideological disagreement should never lead to personal animosity. When Torah scholars disagree, their dispute is over ideals, and is never personal. When a scholar is involved in a dispute, his followers must be careful not to become involved in a matter that is not their own, and certainly should avoid character assassination and personal hatred towards his opponent.
SEFER SHMIRAS HALOSHON
At All Costs
If one finds oneself embroiled in feud, he dare not rest until he has fully extricated himself from it. One must strive with every ounce of resolve to remove himself from strife, no matter how difficult this may be.
The Torah relates that initially Ohn ben Peles was among the leaders of Korach’s camp in his rebellion against Moshe (Bamidbar 16:1). Yet he managed to separate himself from Korach’s group and thus was not punished when their time came.
Do not be convinced by the evil inclination’s arguments and incitements that, for example, it is below one’s dignity not to follow through in a dispute until victory is achieved. Better to experience embarrassment on this world than to be shamed in the World Above in the presence of the entire Heavenly Assembly.
Our Sages state: “Better that a person be called a fool all his life than to be considered a wicked person even for a moment before the Omnipresent” (Mishnah Ediyos 5:6).