by HaRav Zalman Baruch Melamed
Rosh HaYeshiva, Beit El
Dedicated to the memory of R. Avraham ben-tziyon ben shabtai
Korach challenges Moshe and Aharon with the following words: "The entire community is holy, why do you pretend that you are superior to the congregation of God?" In other words, "why shouldn’t we all be treated as if we are Kohanim, (priests)?" Why do the Jewish people have to be pigeon-holed into various classes? The Torah was emphatic in telling us that providing Yosef with preferential treatment relative to his brothers prompted a litany of problems, dissension and slander. Isn't equality, then, the key to unity?
Korach’s demands are even more understandable nowadays, when the pursuit of democracy, equality for all - the value of everybody living his life in absolute freedom - is the main theme of modern society. Western civilization views government as the entity that will ensure that citizens don’t infringe on the freedom of their fellow man. In this light, the Talmud in Tractate Avoda Zara says that if it were not for the fear of the kingdom (authorities) each man would "swallow up his neighbor." In democracies, the function of the government is simply to see to it that friction and clashes between citizens are prevented. Western democracies, however, play no significant role in the promotion of positive values and projects. (It is of course true that when the majority of citizens want the government to behave in a particular manner, the government implements the will of that majority; however, here, too, the government is not initiating the positive action, the citizenry is.) This demand for equality was characteristic of Communism as well. That political camp maintained that no one person has greater value than his fellow man.
Individualism and the freedom of the individual, the belief that nobody should interfere with my life, is an approach that in the long run is liable to lead to a certain apathy between neighbors, a lack of mutual concern. This is the warped perspective that has its roots in democracy. It is a point of view that stems from the desire for "simple peace and quiet".
Our Approach to Peace
The view of the Torah, however, is sharply different. For the Torah Jew, democracy does not bring peace. The word "peace" - "Shalom" - is derived from the term "Sheleimut" - or wholeness, completeness, perfection. Completeness means the merging of various parts, each part of which is not whole in and of itself. This wholeness is characterized by a nucleus that connects all the sundry parts, that binds all components of the nation together into one. This dynamic brings sheleimut, Shalom.
It is this Jewish concept with which Korach took issue. Korach erred when he failed to understand the need for one focal point that unites the nation. This nucleus stands above everybody, like a spine, that unites all of the different limbs of the body. This was the job of the Kohen Gadol, who performed his holy service on behalf of the Jewish people.
The great sage Hillel instructs us to be the students of Aharon, who was "a lover of peace a pursuer of peace; he loved people and brought them closer to Torah." Aharon pursued peace not only because this world is one of great divisions and we are each bidden by God to overcome our evil inclinations to make peace. But essentially, says the Maharal of Prague, we should pursue peace because we understand that peace is the world’s natural, ideal state. Thus, Rabbi Hillel does not simply say that we should "pursue peace" but that we should be "of the students of Aharon".
When this kind of oneness permeates all factions of the nation, everyone will come to understand the concept of Hashem’s Oneness, and it will no longer be necessary to "publicize" it. The very appearance of the Jewish people as "One nation in the Land" will drive home the message of "You are One and Your name is One".
Torah Scholars: the True "Peace Camp"
Our sages taught us that "Torah scholars increase peace in the world." On occasion, we may actually doubt the veracity of this statement. It’s enough to just read the announcements and stories signed by great Torah scholars - directed at people whom do not exactly go on their path - to prompt the question: Is it true that Torah scholars really increase peace in the world?
Looking at the matter more deeply, however, we come to realize that it is really the Torah scholars who are bringing peace to the world. Each scholar introduces his own unique part in the wholeness of the Torah, adds his own special quality to the fabric. This is how "sheleimut" increases in the world...
Indeed, when we merit the re-establishment of the Sanhedrin (High Jewish Court), all disagreements will be resolved, but it seems that even at that time, there will be room for an array of perspectives - regarding the intentions associated with various mitzvah actions and customs. It’s not for nothing that the Children of Israel were divided into 12 tribes... Everyone makes his contribution to the building of the nation...
As we have already mentioned, the sin of Korach derived from the failure to understand that there is a nucleus to which all other entities are connected - that there is a root, from which all of the branches grow. One who recognizes the unique level of the Kohen Gadol, in all of his holiness, understands something of the nation of Israel’s holiness, that only from the midst of the nation of Israel could such a holy person be found.
Closeness Engenders Strife
You may have noticed that there are more disagreements and debates between Jews in the Land of Israel than between Jews in the Diaspora. Within Israel, there is more tension within Jerusalem than in Tel Aviv. And in Jerusalem, there are sometimes very harsh exchanges between Jews; it almost seems that this is a city of conflict, not of peace.
A deeper look indicates that the foundation of disagreements lies in friction, and friction is generally found between two similar entities, while between entities that are more dissimilar, this is not the case; in the latter instance, an almost lack of concern is the rule of thumb. Arguments, then, testify to the presence of concern for the fate of one’s fellow man - a striving to correct his behavior. The closer people are to each other, the sharper the disagreements, since the differences between the sides are so insignificant, there is a greater need to sharpen those differences. When we hear accusations like, "There is an element of heresy in his words" - we understand that in the majority of cases, the two sides are close; the harshness just comes to highlight the gap in the case at hand.
Jerusalem is the center of the world, the place in which the perfection of the nation is to be revealed. It is therefore there that each view must be clarified and be permitted its unique quality. In this way only, each approach can play its part in the building the state of perfection of the nation in Jerusalem...
Torah scholars discussing a particular issue at first argue with each other quite harshly - but in the end, "they become beloved to one another." Even if at times it may initially seem that their relationship is distant, fraught with disagreement - in reality, a solid common interest unites them: clarification of the truth.
This is also incidentally true for relationships within the family. Brothers argue, and often the tone of argument is fairly intense. However, not too many arguments develop between people who are not close to each other. The reason: you don’t care as much about a stranger as you do a brother; thus, you feel less of a need to reprove him or argue with him. One who has discussed a particular topic with his brother, becomes quite impatient with him. Since the two men are so close, one expects the other to "understand him." When this doesn’t materialize, the brother trying to explain himself gets angry.
The external manifestation of this problem of course must be dealt with - namely, the prevention of disagreements and strife, so that the unity between the various elements of the nation will be complete. The author of Sefer Haredim notes that love of one’s fellow Jew is a branch of the mitzvah of loving God. A flaw in the mitzvah of Ahavat Yisrael is consequently a poor reflection on God’s oneness, namely, the manifestation of God’s Oneness in this world.
The task of Torah scholars is to unite the nation, to be of the students of Aharon. The difficulty in this role lies in the fact that from one angle, a scholar must be determined to stand up for the correctness of his approach; on the other hand, he must make sure that he does not remain in a state of strife with others. In this regard, we should all learn from our leader Moshe, who in his efforts to avoid strife, invested his time in appeasing Korach’s allies, Datan and Aviram.