by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"And Korach the son of Yitzhar, the son of K'has, the son of Levi, and
Dasan and Aviram the sons of Eliav, and On the son of Peles, the sons of
Reuven, took [themselves to the side]; and they rose up against Moshe..."
The Mishna in the Sayings of the Fathers [5:17] reads, "Which is an
argument for the sake of Heaven? This is the argument of Hillel and
Shammai. And not for the sake of Heaven? This is the argument of Korach and
his entire congregation." We should probably have expected the Mishna to
read differently. If it says that the paradigm for "an argument for the
sake of Heaven" is the argument of Hillel and Shammai, then the paradigm
for an argument which is not for the sake of Heaven should be that of
"Korach and Moshe." Instead, it reads "Korach and his entire congregation."
The Medrash Shmuel explains that while the motivations of both parties were
the same in the first case, this was not true in the latter. Moshe and
Aharon had only the purest of motivations, but Korach did not. For this
reason, Moshe and Aharon - whose motivations were pure - could not be
classified together with Korach.
If an observer had come along who did not know any better, then he or she
would probably have thought that the story in our parsha just boiled down
to a power struggle between Moshe and Korach. We know that this is not
true. Moshe was acting entirely for the sake of Heaven, and he had no
interest in making an argument. He was forced into this situation by Korach
himself, and Heaven forbid that anyone should attribute the least blame to
Moshe for what happened.
From this, we can learn a very powerful lesson. Sometimes we may think
about other people that they are involved in argument, and are at least
partially responsible for a fight -- and it may be entirely untrue. We must
remember that we have an obligation to judge everyone favorably -- and that
includes both sides in an argument, until we know the "whole story."
Sometimes, on the other hand, it may be you whom people think is "involved"
in an argument, although you know that you are doing the right thing. In
this sort of case, because you recognize that it takes a Moshe to act
entirely for the sake of Heaven, you may indeed blame yourself and feel
reluctant to continue -- you may unfairly consider yourself at least
partially responsible for an argument or ill-feelings.
In this situation, it is important that you seek out a wise and impartial
counselor. Your Rabbi might be the right person (parents, by the way, are
probably too inherently biased in your favor). It may be absolutely true
that you are "over the line" -- but perhaps people are blaming you for
something which is none of your doing.
A story of this nature happened to me while I was studying in Israel.
Without being too specific about the details, the Rosh Yeshiva, the Dean of
my Yeshiva, told me that in his judgment it wasn't worthwhile for me to
become involved with a particular program. It was a "kosher" activity,
nothing that would ordinarily be considered wasting time from study -- but
the Dean felt that some affairs of the program weren't appropriate, and he
encouraged me to stay out. And so that is what I did. I had suspicions of
my own, which I feel were borne out several years later, but I probably
would not have failed to participate on my own without the Rosh Yeshiva's
Of course, I didn't go to the people involved and tell them that I refused
to participate -- I simply said that I wasn't available, which was true.
But a certain young man in the yeshiva, who had clearly spent an
insufficient amount of time learning the prohibitions against gossip, had
overheard certain elements of my conversation and bought the reason behind
my sudden unavailability back to the people running the program. Of course,
they really couldn't have an argument with the Rosh Yeshiva, but the news
quickly traveled back to me that they had heard about this and were
essentially blaming me for following the Rosh Yeshiva's advice.
Of course, I have been in a host of arguments in my life which were my
responsibility. But this was not one of them. Nonetheless, I was somewhat
upset about the situation, and discussed it with the Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi
Yaakov Eliezer Schwartzman, of "Lakewood East," the branch of Lakewood in
Israel (Bais Medrash Gavoha D'America B'Eretz Yisrael).
At the time, we were studying Tractate Bava Metziah, which covers various
financial laws. The Mishna on page 75b says, "One who hires workers, and
the workers fool each other, they only have claims (Tarumos) against each
other." The Talmud explains on 76a that the business owner asks someone to
hire workers at a particular rate, and this middleman tells the workers
that the owner will pay them a higher fee for the job. At the end of the
day, the workers go to collect their wages, and of course the owner gives
them only the smaller amount.
The Mishna is telling us that a court cannot force the middleman to pay the
difference, since he told them that the owner alone was responsible for
paying them, and because both rates were reasonable for workers of that
type. The workers can say that they would have made the effort to try to
find higher-paying work, but the middleman can say that without him, they
would not have found work at all.
A court cannot force the middleman to pay, but the workers do have
"Tarumos," claims. In Heaven, the middleman will be judged for his actions,
for deceiving the workers.
So this is what Rabbi Schwartzman said: from here we learn, that "Tarumos"
are also a "zechus," a privilege. Not everyone gets to have "claims." These
workers have claims against the middleman, because he deceived them, he
caused an argument, he created trouble. But when people are doing the right
thing, it is not their responsibility if others decide to be angry with
them for doing the right thing. They are not the ones creating the argument.
Once again, this needs to be discussed carefully with an impartial
counselor or Rabbi. But we must not be afraid to do the right thing, merely
because someone might use this as an excuse to be angry. It is true that
Hillel sought peace and we should be like Hillel -- but Moshe is no less a
role model. Sometimes, we need to be ready to do the right thing -- and
that doesn't make us "part" of an argument!