In memory of Reuven ben Sarah
1. A Key To Martial Harmony
2. What We Can Learn From The Nazir
3. The “Priestly Blessing”- The Power of a Blessing
4. Shavuot, the Veiled Festival
5. Being a True“Receiver” of Torah
6. King David’s Secret Weapon
7. Defusing Disputes (Parshat Beha’aloscha)
A Key To Martial Harmony
וכתב את האלות האלה…ומחה אל מי מרים
The priest shall write these curses on a parchment, and erase into the bitter waters. (BeMidbar 5:23)
The Midrash tells the story of a certain woman who used to attend the Friday night classes of the great Tanna Rebbi Meir. Upon her late return home one Friday night, her husband (who was a scoffer with deep animosity to rabbis) asked her where she had been. When she told him, the angry man responded with the following ultimatum: You may not enter the house until you spit in the face of R’ Meir! Obviously, the pious woman rejected this outrageous ultimatum, and did not sleep at home that night. But that was not the end of the story.
Eliyahu Hanavi appeared to R’ Meir, and made him aware that he had indirectly been the cause of marital strife. After he learned what had transpired, he went over to this woman in shul, and pretended that he had a problem with his eye, causing it to twitch. He asked her if she knew the widely known “home remedy” commonly practiced in those days to cure this condition. Embarrassed, she said she did not. He thus instructed her: “Please, spit in my eye seven times.” After the poor woman reluctantly complied, he told her: “Now go home and report to your husband that you obeyed his request. He requested that you spit in Rebbi Meir’s eye only once, but you added another six !”
Upon seeing how their great teacher, Rebbi Meir, put himself to shame for the sake of marital harmony, his students asked him how he could belittle his own honor which, in essence, is like degrading the honor of the Torah? Given permission, they could easily have forced the ludicrous husband into allowing his wife back into the house.
R’ Meir told them that if G-d allows us to erase and dishonor His Name for the sake of tranquility between man and his suspect wife (the sotah), surely the honor of R’ Meir can be disgraced for this purpose! (Midrash Rabbah 9:20)
In truth, the Torah’s prescription for testing the sotah is quite perplexing. In an attempt to check if she actually sinned, the Kohanim in the Beit Hamikdash give her to drink “bitter waters” into which G-d’s holy Name is erased from parchment. If she did not sin and was not guilty of her husband’s suspicions, she is blessed with beautiful children. If, however, she did indeed commit adultery, she swells up and dies in disgrace. But we cannot help but ask the obvious question: Is there no other way to check to see if she did indeed sin except by means of erasing G-d’s Name?
The answer can teach us a powerful lesson, which is actually the lesson that R’ Meir wanted to teach his students. The most common reason for conflict in nearly every relationship is a lack of respect, or an inability to control one’s pride. Although the disputes take different forms – pride and respect are almost always at the root of the problem. The details are simply the way respect and pride manifest themselves in any given situation. Therefore, G-d Himself has us erase His Holy Name for the sake of giving the suspected errant wife, the sotah, an opportunity to exonerate herself and to demonstrate the importance of restoring marital harmony.
The Torah’s procedure of erasing the Divine Name also hints to us about how we ourselves can help restore harmony in our relationships. We can erase our “name” by erasing our ego, and thus communicate to the other person that “my ego is of minute value compared with the great importance I attribute to our relationship.” This was the lesson of R’ Meir to his students, and the example that we are all to follow.
I once had a close friend who suffered from marital strife in the early years of his marriage. Upon hearing his long list of complaints about his new wife, I suggested that he receive some counseling from my Rabbi. Not long afterwards, the young man returned to me with a look of new hope, and thanked me for my recommendation.
Now, although I respect my rabbi greatly, I know that he is not a prophet. I was amazed that he was able to assess the long-standing problem and come up with a solution so fast. My rabbi explained that he noticed a thread of mutual lack of respect running through all the years of their marriage. Indeed, he said, in his many years of counseling experience, he has found that this is almost always the core problem. And thus he usually suggests that the couple work on increasing their respect for another. My friend found this to be sound advice. I am happy to report that “they lived happily ever after!”
What We Can Learn From The Nazir
‘ כל ימי נזרו קדש לה
As long as he is a nazir, he is holy unto G-d. (BeMidbar 6:8)
Once, while traveling by cab in Jerusaelm, I was listening to a thought-provoking discussion by Rabbi Noach Weinberg zt”l on the importance of defining to ourselves terms that we often misinterpret. One of these terms was holiness. Interested in pursuing this topic with someone, I posed the question to my non-religious cab driver in a way that I hoped would pique his attention.
“Sir, I will bet you 25 shekels that there is something every tourist visiting Jerusalem comes to look for, and you don’t know what it is!” He laughed and replied: “I know every attraction and building in Jerusalem! You’re going to lose your money!” I challenged him: “Everyone comes to Jerusalem searching for holiness. Can you define holiness for me?
The cabbie promptly exclaimed that holiness means the holy sites, such as the Western Wall and the graves of the holy Rabbis. Now, from his non-religious perspective, my driver was not totally off the wall.
I persisted: “Are you sure that this is an adequate definition of holiness? Isn’t it true that the holy places you’ve mentioned sometimes have unholy things going on there as well?”
At that point, the cabbie asked me how I define holiness. If we take a glance at this week’s Torah portion, I think we will all be able to answer this question.
In this week’s Parashah, Naso, the laws of the nazir are spelled out. If one takes on the status of nazir, he or she is strictly forbidden to drink wine , take a haircut, or get close to a dead body. The nazir is labeled holy by the Torah – “holy unto G-d.” According to Rabeinu Bachye, the nazir is even holier than the Kohen Gadol. How can we understand this?
A Kohen Gadol is there to help gain atonement after sin has been committed. After the sin of the Golden Calf, Aharon was to serve in the Mishkan on behalf of the sinners. After the sin of the Tree of Knowledge, Adam HaRishon brought a sacrifice. The Midrash calls him a Kohen Gadol. But the nazir is aiming to avoid sin altogether – not just neutralizing its effects after it has come into his life. If we think about it, we see that the common denominator between the first two nazirite laws is gaining distance from materialistic drives. No haircuts means not being obsessed with one’s appearance. Not drinking wine means no parties. Disengaging and separating himself from worldly pleasures benefits the nazir not only with regard to keeping away from sin, but also in moving towards spiritual perfection. Keeping away from the dead is meant to insure that he does not engage in any form of witchcraft. This is of importance because the holy nazir is a candidate for רוח הקודש – the privilege of receiving the Divine spirit. To keep his name clean of suspicion of witchcraft, he needs to refrain from contact with the dead (Baal HaTurim).
Putting it all together, we see that one who distances himself from sin can reach a level of holiness higher than the one who engages in penitence after a sin has been committed. It is no wonder that the mashgiach of the Mir Yeshiva, Rav Aharon Chadash shlit”a, emphasizes that holiness is a concept which involves being “beyond and separated.” (See Rashi at the beginning of Parashat Kedoshim.) G-d is referred to by the angels as קדוש קדוש קדוש– the epitome of holiness. The angels try three times to understand G-d and His ways, but He is beyond them. The Holy Temple was separate from the rest of the world – a place where materialism was superseded, and spirituality was tangible. Holy people are separated in a sense from materialistic or worldly desires. One who dedicates himself to a life of spirituality and meaning, strictly limiting materialistic instincts and egoistic impulses, can be classified holy as well.
This definition of holiness can seem, at first glance, a bit overwhelming for a citizen of the 21st Century. But if we think about, we will realize that keeping materialism in check is actually an ideal remedy for today’s major threat to our spiritual growth.
It has been noted that the modern period is an era of ism’s: communism, socialism, fascism… An ism is a belief by people of any given culture in the most effective and beneficial lifestyle or system. As the generations pass, however, it becomes crystal clear that the reigning ism does not really solve humanity’s problems, and a new “ism” develops in its stead. Our time has a major “ism” as well: materialism.
What could be a more fitting way to keep materialism in check than the concept of holiness?
While actually becoming a nazir in our generation is strongly opposed by our Rabbis, we can apply the concept to our own lives. Do we really need the latest cell phones or luxury car? Are the expensive brand name clothes really so necessary for our happiness?… We might find more time for spirituality if we would properly define to ourselves the difference between need and want – and use the concept of holiness and spirituality as our compass.
The “Priestly Blessing”- The Power of a Blessing
Notice the language of the brachah recited before Birkat Kohanim, the blessing given by the kohanim to the rest of the congregation. It is utterly unique: “…and He commanded us to bless His people, Israel, with love” (וצונו לברך את עמו ישראל באהבה). In no other blessing before a mitzvah do we add that we are commanded to do it with love. How are we to understand this? I’d like to share with you the approach of one of my colleagues.
The truth is that a person is expected to do all of G-d’s mitzvot with love. If he or she falls short, however – and fulfills the mitzvah without love – it is still considered done. (Of course, the fulfillment leaves something to be desired.) But with regard to the mitzvah of the Kohanim to bless others, the matter is entirely different. No one wants a half-hearted blessing. The only way for the Kohanim to give a blessing is out of love. If it is not given with love, it does not qualify as a blessing.
A warm blessing can melt even the coldest of hearts. People used to cherish blessings of the ordinary mainly because of the love they invested in it. Indeed, we see this reflected even in English: Good-bye is actually a shortened version of what used to be the blessing “G-d be with you.” People often make the effort and go to great rabbis for a blessing for the sole reason that they will be blessed lovingly out of the rabbis’ true love for every Jew.
As my own rabbi pointed out, one common, severe, parenting mistake is committed in this very area that we are discussing – giving blessings. When fathers bless their children on Friday night, they too often perceive themselves as ordinary people giving an ordinary blessing. They may forget that their children do not look at them as ordinary. Children believe, or would like to believe, that their father is special. Whether they are right or wrong, it would be a shame to waste this opportunity, to simply mouth the words because it is traditional to do so. Even if the father is not particularly special in his own eyes, when he blesses his children out of true love, he bestows on his children much more than he can ever imagine.
Each day, good mothers send their children off to school with the blessing: “Have a great day!” Now, the fact is that even a child feels how much of his mother’s heart and focus are in those words before he faces the world. Let us try to visualize such a child in school a few hours later at break time, noticing that no one wants to play with him. Just then, immersed in his loneliness, he will sense in the deepest parts of his subconscious if at least his mother cares for him. If his mother is prepared in the morning rush to take a moment to gaze at him and say her “Have a great day!” with love, it will make a world of a difference. And that difference may determine whether or not this child feels alone in the world.
If we think about it, we will realize that there are so many moments during the day where we have an opportunity to give a heartfelt blessing. The Torah tells us that one who blesses a Jew, any Jew, will be blessed by G-d “ ואברכה מברכיך” . But let us keep in mind that the way we bless others is the way we ourselves will be blessed by G-d. As the Baal Shem Tov would say on the passuk ה’ צלך (“G-d is your shadow”): G-d shadows or mirrors whatever we do. If we bless others and care for others with our whole heart, G-d will do the same to us.
Shavuot, the Veiled Festival
The Torah refers to the Festival of Shavuot in two different ways: Shavuot (weeks) and Atseret (cessation). Interestingly, though, it does not refer to Shavuot in a way that reflects what happened on this day, the Giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. This contrasts with the way the Torah refers to Passover and Succoth, where the words reflect the occasions that we are commemorating.
This is because there is an essential difference between Shavuot and the other Festivals. Pesach and Succoth are characterized by two concepts – the prohibition against doing melachah as well as the special mitzvot of the day, such as eating matzot and sitting in the succah. Shavuot, in contrast, has no unique mitzvot. It has only the prohibition against doing melachah. This is why it is called Atzeret, meaning cessation. The only thing we “do” is to cease doing melachah. The other name for the Festival, Shavuot, commemorates the conclusion of the counting the weeks of the Omer, the period between Passover and Shavuot. But there is no hint at the Giving of the Torah at Sinai.
There is another difference between Shavuot and the other two Festivals: the date is not set on the Jewish calendar. Rather, the date is arrived at by counting forty-nine days from Pesach. The message is that Shavuot marks the end of the preparation for our receiving the Torah at Sinai. Forty-nine days of spiritual preparation were required. The preparation represents the excitement and enthusiasm we have for the Torah and its Mitzvot. In a sense, we celebrate the preparation for accepting the Torah more than the acceptance of the Torah itself.
This approach should not seem entirely strange to us – especially those of us who are married. Wasn’t the excitement of the engagement period even greater than the wedding itself? When I think back on my own experience, I recall occasional frustration during the days of wedding preparation that certain things were not turning out the way I had expected. I was fortunate in having a rabbi who put me at ease by reminding me that the true happiness of getting married is not the four hours of the wedding itself, but the new life that the couple is about to start.
Shavuot is the holiday where we celebrate the excitement of starting a new life. The new life, however, is not limited to one day, but should stay with us the whole year long. The day itself cannot be referred to as the day of our “Receiving the Torah” because, in a sense, we accept the Torah every day. It is, though, the day we celebrate the love we felt through anticipation for the Torah.
We can now better appreciate why we don’t have special mitzvot to commemorate anything specific on Shavuot. It is because this day gave us a whole new life and way of living. We can thus best commemorate the receiving of the Torah by living according to its ways, and projecting the joy we have in our Covenant with G-d.
Being a True“Receiver” of Torah
How do you explain why people playing “Telephone” have trouble passing a simple statement down to the last person in line without distorting the original statement?
I have posed this question to a number of people recently, and I would like to share with you what I consider to be the best answer. Each person puts his own perspective into the original statement until you can barely recognize what the first one said.
As we approach the Festival of the Giving of the Torah, Shavuot, this insight can help us stand in awe at how the Torah was passed on from Sinai down to our generation without the slightest alteration.
When examining this chain of transmission I think the best place to start is the very first mishnah in Masechet Avot. Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin calls our attention to the fact that while this Mishnah speaks of Moshe receiving the Torah at Sinai and then passing it on to Yehoshua, it does not explicitly mention that Yehoshua received the Torah from Moshe. The mishnah takes this for granted and simply goes on to delineate how Yehoshua passed on the Torah to the next generation, and how each succeeding generation passed it on to the next. In contrast, with reference to Moshe, the mishnah does not say that G-d passed it on to Moshe and Moshe passed it further. The emphasis is on Moshe receiving the Torah from G-d. What is the importance of this emphasis on Moshe as a “receiver”?
We find the answer to this question in our parashah. Moshe was different from all the other prophets in that he had much greater clarity of vision when G-d spoke with him. We also see in our parashah that Moshe was the most humble of men – (והאיש משה עניו מכל האדם). These two special qualities of Moshe are very much related. G-d specifically chose Moshe to be the one to receive the Torah because he was the only human being who could preserve the original in its entirety – without the slightest modification. Moshe’s humility and perception of himself as nothing (
ואנחנו מה) stemmed from his awareness that none of his successes were attributable to himself. This aided Moshe in receiving the Torah without mixing his own understanding or opinions into it. Once an iota of self-pride exists, a personal perspective will automatically surface. Since Moshe attributed all of his successes to G-d, he was able to attain a “transparency” beyond all the other prophets. For this reason, only Moshe was able to say, “This is what G-d said to me” (זה הדבר) – in contrast to all other prophets who introduced their prophecies with the expression, “So said G-d”( ‘כה אמר ה ).
There is a famous question everyone asks – or should ask – on Shavuot regarding Chazal’s account of how the Jewish People felt in anticipation of receiving the Torah at Sinai. Although we find in the Torah that the Jews demonstrated readiness and willingness when they declared, We will do and we will listen (נעשה ונשמע)! , the Talmud tells us that G-d still had to threaten them: If you do not accept the Torah, you will be buried by an uprooted mountain! How are we to explain this seeming paradox? (See Tosofot Shabbat 88a.)
The Zohar explains that their readiness was for the Written Torah. The threat was needed to get them to accept the Oral Torah. What was the difficulty of the Oral Torah that made them so hesitant to accept?
The Alter of Kelm offers this keen insight: The difficulty of passing on the Oral Law is that each person has to take responsibility to pass on the Torah as it was given at Sinai and become a נותן התורה– a pure conduit of Torah precision directly from Sinai. There is only one way to overcome the broken telephone problem that we mentioned at the outset: Placing G-d’s values and principles ahead of our personal opinions and wants. And so, one of the key questions one should ask himself on Shavuot is: “How can I make sure that I will be a נותן התורה – able to pass on the Torah the way it is supposed to be passed on?”
The aforementioned concept can be very beneficial in understanding how we can improve our seemingly short-circuited communications with others. When conversing with others, especially our loved ones, a critical mistake would be to understand things from our personal perspective. If we pay attention to the differences in the assumptions, beliefs, and behavior patterns of those around us, we will notice that what seem to be their obvious assumptions (etc.) about any given event or situation are really based on existing subconscious perspectives, values, and even instincts. The most valuable and effective thing we can do when communicating with someone we love is to hear what they have to say and validate their perspective before offering our own opinion or comment. Most communications are short-circuited because what one hears is not what the other meant to say.
King David’s Secret Weapon
The other day, the teacher of my seven year-old son gave him a newspaper article to take home. I was very grateful to the teacher, for this was an article on my family’s lineage. I expected to read about Chaim Farhi and other famous Farhi family philanthropists from the past – information that I already knew. When I read the second line of the article, however, I jumped off my chair: “According to tradition, the Farhi family lineage goes all the way back to King David.” After verifying that the article was based on reliable sources, I passed on this revelation to close family members. Needless to say, I was very excited. I asked my wife if we could buy a donkey. After all, someone in the family might turn out to be Moshiach. For some reason, she refused.
The Chida says that the reason why Megillas Ruth is customarily read in shul on Shavuot is to draw attention to the lineage of King David, whose birth and death occurred on Shavuot ((שמחת הרגל ג’. King David led a most turbulent and difficult life. Early on, the special circumstances of his birth and his unusual complexion triggered accusations by his older brothers that he was illegitimate. In an attempt to rid their prestigious family of him, David’s brothers sent him to pasture the sheep in dangerous places. Then, because he was seen out late at night attending his father’s flock, people in his home town of Beth Lechem began to accuse him of being the town thief. No one stood up for him. Only his mother encouraged him to always turn to G-d. “He will never forsake you,” she reassured him.
In the next stage of his life, David was forced into an ongoing struggle with King Shaul, his father-in-law. In their first encounter, King Shaul did not honor his promise to give him his daughter Meirav, whose hand had been offered to the one who succeeded in killing Goliath. He made another outrageous bet for David to marry his second daughter Michal. But, in the meantime, Shaul secretly married off Michal to someone else. After David did eventually marry Michal, his father-in-law became convinced that David was plotting to overthrow him, a crime which carries the penalty of death. He thus sought to kill him.
David’s parents and brothers became endangered through this struggle as well. David thought they would be safe by bringing them to be guarded by the King of Moab, to whom he was related through his great-grandmother, Ruth. When things calmed down with Shaul, David asked for his father, mother, and brothers back from his trusted Moabite brethren. To his utter shock and dismay, his family had been murdered.
Later in life, King David was targeted by Avshalom, his must successful son. The background of the conflict stemmed from still another family tragedy. Avshalom himself died a tragic death which David mourned greatly. In short, King David – who was forced to bloody his hands in war after war – had no peace from his own family, teachers and friends; and no rest from all his enemies and traitors throughout all seventy years of his life.
Fortunately, though, David managed to keep a kind of diary of his experiences. He would compose a psalm (poem/song) to G-d for each challenging experience. He collected all 150 of them as a book, known as Tehillim (Psalms). One can wonder in amazement as to how David was able to muster up the emotional strength and find time to compose so many of these songs to G-d despite his never-ending challenges. Perhaps we can get some insight through a glimpse that Chazal give us of the future.
The Talmud (Pesachim 119b) tells us that in the future, G-d will make a lavish feast for the righteous. After the feast, the cup of wine will be passed to Avraham to make the blessing after Birkat Hamazon . Avraham will decline, feeling undeserving for having brought Yishmael into the world. Yitzchak, too, will decline because he fathered Esav; and Yaakov will turn down the honor because he married two sisters, something that the Torah later prohibited. Moshe will refuse because he did not merit to enter Eretz Yisrael, and Yehoshua because he did not have any sons. But King David will say: I will make the blessing, and it is fitting for me to do so (כוס ישועות אשא ובשם ה’ אקרא)!
Now, how can we understand this self-confidence on the part of King David? Did he not also have some problematic children, and a personal failing or two that should prevent him from feeling worthy? He was not, after all, worthy of the Holy Temple being built in his lifetime, but only later in the lifetime of his son Shlomo. Why will King David feel faultless in comparison to all the greatest figures in Jewish history?
This can be understood through King David’s use of the term למנצח – the common title for many of his psalms. The word נצח means everlasting. But למנצח means “to the Victor.” In other words, the “Ultimate Victor” – G-d – is “everlasting,” and His victories demonstrate His “everlastingness”.
King David learned from early on in his difficult life that there are battles and struggles that cannot be won through purely physical means. Fortunately, he realized that there is more to the story and he adapted the following belief: “If I praise the Ultimate Victor for all my successes, then no challenge is too hard to tackle, for it is not my strength that will determine my triumph.” This belief made it easy for young David to fight the most experienced and well-armed warrior in the world, Goliath. Although he had no armor or prior military training, David was right there to fight the battle when Goliath said that he will take on the Jews and their G-d.
At the Final Banquet in the future, King David will announce that it is not his own value or strength that brought about his successes. And, of course, he may not be more worthy than the Forefathers. On the contrary, because he feels that he is even less worthy, King David will raise the cup and make the blessing, all the while proclaiming that despite the unworthiness of mankind, G-d is our steadfast Victor.
Life has too many impossible battles to fight. Pull out a Tehillim and call out למנצח from the depths of your heart! That was King David’s life secret.
After their very first disagreement, many newlyweds wonder if they really were meant for each other. For some couples, this disagreement can take place on their first Shabbat alone. Sooner or later, of course, it happens in every marriage. A newlywed who has had proper guidance from a competent mentor will be able to avoid grave mistakes when that first (or subsequent) disagreement happens, and keep things from getting out of hand.
Busy schedules often prevent couples from discussing their differences of opinion until late in the evening. This is a mistake. Because the mind is tired by then, and not functioning with clarity, this is a perfect recipe for a blowout. As a rule of thumb, it is best not to speak about issues in dispute after ten o’clock at night. Doing so can also risk going to sleep angry which will start the next day on the wrong side of the bed. No harm will be done by putting off the discussion until tomorrow. With a mind fresh and clear, one of the parties often realizes that the issue was trivial, or that the other spouse’s point of view is legitimate.
Of course, having differences of opinion with a spouse is not necessarily a bad thing. Rabbi Akiva Eiger, for example, would have long discussions – even disagreements – with his beloved wife about life values and principles. Through them, he benefited by sharpening and clarifying his own views. After her passing he mourned her greatly.
If disagreements and disputes can have a positive role to play in Jewish life, how are we to know which ones are productive, and which ones to stay away from? Indeed, how can we turn our differences of opinion and opposite points of views into something that is actually positive and productive? The secret of serenity is to be found in Pirkei Avot:
Any disagreement that isלשם שמים (for the sake of Heaven) will endure – but if it is not לשם שמים , it will not. What is a disagreement that is לשם שמים ? – one like that of Hillel and Shamai. What is a disagreement that is not לשם שמים ? – one like that of Korach and all his followers. (5:17)
As the Bartenurah explains, the disagreement between Hillel and Shamai was for the purpose of gaining knowledge of the truth – which they ultimately achieved. In contrast, Korach’s dispute with Moshe was an attempt to attain honor and power. In the end, it backfired, causing the opposite effect. Awareness of these two very different motives can help us when we analyze any dispute, as we shall soon see.
Korach approached Moshe with the following two questions:
* How can it be that an all blue (tchelet), four cornered garment still needs to have tzitzit (tchelet strings) and the whole garment being tchelet alone without strings does not yet suffice?
* How can a room filled with Torah scrolls need a mezuzah on the door if the Torah scrolls themselves contain the parshiot of the mezuzah?
Korach tried to use the power of these two questions to undermine Moshe’s credibility in the eyes of the nation. Let us try to appreciate why Moshe did not feel that he should answer these questions. Moshe understood that they were not really intended as questions, but rather as a re-statement of Korach basic argument: “כל העם כולם קדושים ולמה תתנשאו על קהל ה’ ” – all of G-d’s Nation are holy, so why are you (Moshe and Aharon) behaving self-importantly over G-d’s Nation? The questions about the tzizit and the mezuzah stem from the same perspective: Does a nation where everyone is so high and close to G-d on a personal level need a representative of G-d?
As noted above, there are two types of disagreements. One type of disagreement is where the two parties are arguing to clarify a subject, all the while showing mutual respect and not allowing self-pride to get in the way. This type of disagreement has great value because it helps us clarify things that are important to us. The more important the subject, the more synergy is created. This is how Shamai and Hillel, who loved each other very much, would argue heatedly over Torah subjects that they valued more than anything on earth. Today, yeshiva study partners attempt to re-enact these disagreements while in the Beit Medrash – without mixing in any self-pride or personal element. But if the ego is unleashed by one chevruta, the other one may quickly become defensive – and sometimes even offensive.
Korach’s questions were more about the validity of Moshe than about the matters Korach was ostensibly addressing. Moshe felt the ulterior motives behind the questions, and realized that if he answered them, other questions would quickly surface in their place. When ego is at stake in a disagreement, the matter being discussed does not endure because clarification can not be achieved.
Instead of arguing back, Moshe fell on his face. He did not want to be part of this disagreement. Hence, the mishnah we are discussing does not even mention Moshe, but speaks rather about the disagreementלא לשם שמים) ) of Korach and his followers. Moshe responded to Korach only from a perspective that was”לשם שמים” .
Whenever we feel affronted or slighted, we can learn from Moshe’s shining example not to unleash our ego and respond. Rather, we should ask ourselves: “How does G-d want me to respond?”
In memory of Reuven ben Sarah
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