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Parshas Korach (5777)

How to Fight Right

We all have arguments and fights every so often – whether with our parents, our siblings, our spouses, our children, our co-workers, our friends, etc. – it’s just a fact of life and pretty much unavoidable.

The problem is not that we have disagreements and differences with one another – that’s perfectly fine. What we need to learn is how to disagree agreeably … to fight right … to yell well. That’s already not so easy. How can we make sure that we don’t turn what should have been a simple disagreement into a long and bitter fight? And how do we know when we're arguing for the "right" reasons, or when we're just making trouble?

The story of Korach and his tragic downfall - mentioned in great detail in this week’s Torah portion - teaches us how not to argue! In Ethics of our Fathers (Chapter 5 Mishnah 17) we are taught:

"What type of argument is for the sake of Heaven? The argument between Hillel and Shammai. And what type of argument is not for the sake of Heaven? The argument of Korach and his followers".

Notice that it doesn't call it the argument “between Korach and Moses”; rather, it's called the argument “of Korach and his followers”. The commentaries explain that herein lies the difference between an argument for righteous reasons and an argument just for the sake of arguing.

Hillel and Shammai might have argued with each other very often. Heck, on every page of the Talmud the Rabbis are arguing with each other! But that's okay as long as they share a common goal - to get to the truth and to get closer to G-d through that truth.

But sometimes people argue and pick fights for all the wrong reasons. Maybe it's their nature to be argumentative and grumpy, or they're looking for honor and prestige, or they're just jealous, or a million other possibilities.

Whatever the motivation might be, a good way of telling if their intentions are sincere, is to see if those who are banding together to start the fight are in perfect agreement with each other. If they are, that shows that they share a common goal - to get to the truth, or to remedy a problem in the community. But if they themselves are not totally in sync with each other, it shows that they probably are being motivated by their own selfish concerns.

That was the story with Korach and his gang. Korach wanted to become the leader, and Dasan and Aviram wanted something else, and the other 250 tribal heads wanted a third thing. Each group had its own agenda - it wasn't a pure quest for the truth that motivated them. And that's why the Mishnah refers to their argument as "the argument of Korach and his followers", instead of "the argument between Korach and Moses". If his own group didn't get along with each other, then it wasn't a pure argument.

The Torah commands us as one of the 613 commandments not to "fight like Korach". This means, on a practical level, that we should ask ourselves the next time we're about to yell at someone at the synagogue board meeting, or when we’re about to form a group to protest certain policies at the local day school, or whatever other cause we’re fighting for - are we together as one with regard to the purpose and end goal of our argument? Will this fight achieve the greatest good for the synagogue or day school? And why am I involved in this fight? Am I in it for the prestige I'll receive? Am I in it just to see the school principal embarrassed because I don't like him or her? Or am I sincerely interested in the spiritual growth and betterment of the organization?

These are tough, soul-searching questions that we must ask ourselves. Are we going to "fight right" - or are we going to get “swallowed up” in bitter fights and controversies the way Korach did?

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