The Evils of Machlokes

The tragic story of Korach’s rebellion and its aftermath teaches us much about the devastation that is caused by the plague of machlokes.

“Come and see how severe machlokes is,” Rashi teaches us this week. For a beis din on this temporal world does not punish an individual until he or she has reached adulthood. The Beis Din in Shamayim does not punish until one has reached the age of 20. Yet in the story of Korach, even nursing infants lost their lives because of the machlokes.

Tragically, we have grown so accustomed to the divisions among us that we often fail to recognize the very potent dangers they represent.

“The greatest evil in the world is machlokes, which is worse than avodah zarah,” the Shelah Hakadosh writes.

The juxtaposition of characters involved in the rebellion of Korach is in itself revealing.

At the helm of the rebellion was Korach, who, Chazal say, was angered that he hadn’t been appointed nasi of Shevet Levi. According to some meforshim, Korach wanted the post of Kohen Gadol.

The Ibn Ezra teaches that the 250 men were all firstborn, angered that the avodah in the Mishkan had been taken away from them, and wanted to get it back

Dasan and Aviram were neither Leviim nor firstborn. They were evil rabble-rousers who never missed an opportunity to sin against Hashem and incite against Moshe Rabbeinu.

With starkly different motivations, the rebels had virtually nothing in common. Had Korach been given the post of Nasi or Kohen Gadol, it wouldn’t have helped the 250 bechorim to get back the avodah that was taken away from them and given to the Leviim. Dasan and Aviram, on the other hand, were opposed to the very idea of serving Hashem, and had no interest in the existence of a Kohen Gadol.

It was only a zeal for machlokes, a determination to wage war against Moshe Rabbeinu, that united these diverse interests. Had the men who joined Korach only stopped and reflected on the reality of the situation, they would have reached the same conclusion that was pointed out by the wife of Ohn ben Peles: None of them would have gained with a victory by Korach.

Tragically, this is the case in almost every conflict. The evil inclination goes to great lengths to ensure that the waging parties never have a chance to reflect on the reality of the situation and realize that, in essence, no one ever gains from engaging in a machlokes. Often, there are sorely misguided outsiders who add fuel to the fire by passing on hurtful comments, urging against compromise and otherwise offering their “support” to the conflict. At the time, the parties often delude themselves into thinking that these individuals are friends acting out of loyalty while those who urge for peace are uncaring individuals who fail to realize the gravity of hurt and anguish.

In reality, the precise opposite is true. Those who push for compromise and shalom are the truly loyal ones and those who encourage conflict in any shape are actually inflicting great harm on all involved.

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Hashem instructed Moshe Rabbeinu to take the firepans used by the 250 rebels and make them into a covering for the Mizbei’ach, as a sign for Bnei Yisrael.

At first glance this seems perplexing. Why should vessels that played a part in an act of rebellion be used as a covering for the Mizbei’ach?

The Arugas Habosem gives a very enlightening explanation:

Moshe Rabbeinu had instructed them to gather on the morrow, each with a firepan and ketores, for he knew that these 250 men were great tzaddikim who would certainly make a cheshbon hanefesh before retiring for the night.

That is precisely what occurred: They reflected on their course of action and immediately became filled with an enormous sense of shame and regret — to such a degree that they felt that after committing such a heinous sin, there was no longer any hope for them to serve Hakadosh Baruch Hu. In that case, they reasoned, there was no purpose in living any longer, as the whole reason they wanted to stay alive was to serve Hashem.

This was a terrible error of judgment on their part. They should have realized that teshuvah is always possible, and the regret they experienced was, in itself, the primary part of teshuvah.

Therefore, since they had done teshuvah for their rebellious words and thoughts, Hashem instructed that these very firepans be placed on the Mizbei’ach, as an eternal lesson that one should never give up, and that no matter how far one has fallen he can do teshuvah and serve Hashem on a very lofty level.