A Most Dangerous Threat

“Certainly, even a Jew on the lowest level of spirituality would allow himself to be killed rather than agree to serve avodah zarah; so how can he fail to control himself from engaging in machlokes, which is even worse than serving idols?…”

This powerful statement is made by the Shelah Hakadosh (Shaar Ha’osios, 2), who points out that three times in Tanach we learn that Hakadosh Baruch Hu was willing to defer punishment for avodah zarah, but not for machlokes:

The generation of Enosh was steeped in sin, and openly rebelled against Hashem. Yet only the generation of Noach, which engaged in thievery, was annihilated.

Many centuries later, Bnei Yisrael sinned grievously by making the golden calf, yet Hashem forgave them. But when Korach instigated a machlokes against Moshe Rabbeinu, he and his men, along with their families and every last bit of their possessions, were swallowed up and destroyed.

For a great many decades, some of Bnei Yisrael served an avodah zarah known as pessel Michah. It traveled with them in their wanderings, and even entered Eretz Yisrael. Yet because there was peace among the nation their punishment was deferred. However, when a dispute broke out between the Ten Tribes on one side and Yehudah and Binyamin on the other, it resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Bnei Yisrael.

The Talmud Yerushalmi (Peah 1:5) states that the generation of Dovid were all tzaddikim, but since they had dilturin among them, they fell in battle. The generation of Achav served idols, but since they did not have dilturin among them they would go to war and be victorious.

Dilturin are informers who reveal their side’s whereabouts to the enemy. In the time of Achav, when Ovadiah Hanavi hid 100 neviim, no one revealed their hiding place to the murderous king.

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It is clear from Chazal that machlokes is one of the most dangerous threats our nation faces. Many battles are fought over financial issues; what the protagonists fail to realize is that the machlokes itself is far more dangerous to our parnassah than any momentary monetary loss. “One machlokes can drive away 100 livelihoods” (Tanna D’vei Eliyahu).

The day Bnei Yisrael made the egel, the mann fell as usual. But on the day of the machlokes of Korach the mann did not fall.

On the other hand, peace is the conduit for blessing and the vessel to contain it. We who know that Hashem is the Source of parnassah must also exhibit our bitachon that we will never lose out through pursing peace.

There are various views about the real motivations of Korach — who according to the Arizal will serve as Kohen Gadol when Moshiach comes — but there is certainly much we can learn from this tragic episode.

Of the original plotters in the revolt of Korach, only one man survived. That was Ohn the son of Peles, whose wise wife rescued him.

“You have nothing to gain,” she argued successfully. “If Moshe is the Rav you are the disciple, and if Korach is the Rav you are the disciple.”

“What should I do?” he responded. “I was with them when they plotted, and I promised!”

“I will save you,” his wife told him. She gave him old wine to drink and put him to sleep, uncovered her hair and sat down at the entrance to their tent. Whoever of the plotters came to call Ohn promptly turned away when he encountered a woman with uncovered hair.

The Chofetz Chaim wonders about Ohn’s response to his wife. A “promise” which entails transgressing a Torah prohibition has no validity! Why was he so worried about his promise, to the degree that she was forced to turn to such drastic means to keep his co-conspirators from fetching him?

This, explains the Chofetz Chaim, is the power of machlokes: It blinds those involved to such a degree that until the very last moment they remain convinced that they are actually doing a mitzvah!

Even after his wife convinced him — in the name of his own selfish interests — that he would be best off dropping out of the conspiracy, Ohn still viewed it as a “mitzvah.”

Only after the earth swallowed up Korach and his cohorts did Ohn realize his error, and for the rest of his life he repented for it.

Wrapping a heinous sin in a cloak of righteousness is a favorite tactic of the yezter hora. In all matters, and especially when the deadly fire of machlokes is involved, we must carefully analyze and reanalyze the purity of our motives.

Furthermore, even when we are confident that our actions are 100% for the sake of Heaven (something which very few can truly attest to), this does not release of us from the sacred obligation to go to great extremes to pursue peace, as we learn from Moshe Rabbeinu.

Moshe Rabbeinu had no doubt as to the righteousness of his cause. After all, he was following instructions he had personally received from Hashem. Equally, he had no doubt that Dasan and Aviram were evil men and veteran troublemakers. Yet he still went to them (without waiting for them to come to him, which they had no intention of doing) in an effort to obviate machlokes.

May we all recognize the grave danger lurking in machlokes and so merit the protection and tranquility that follow in the wake of the pursuit of peace.