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Judaism is not against arguments, but it is against the wrong type of arguments. Arguing for the sake of truth with mutual respect is encouraged, and in fact, it is what made Judaism what it is today.

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

This week’s Torah portion is “Korach” and in it we read about the infamous rabble-rouser whose name, Korach, has become synonymous with arguments, fighting and strife.

It all begins with Korach, who accuses Moses of corruption and taking too much power for himself. Of course, it wasn’t Moses who gave himself the power and leadership nor did he even want it. Rather, God forced it upon him.

But Korach didn’t want to be “confused” by the fact that it was God, not Moses, who formed the government. He wanted to blame Moses and in doing so get himself, at the very least, a “ministerial” position.

Well, to make a long story short, Korach and his 250 followers staged a rebellion and the earth opened up, swallowing Korach and his followers. God made it clear who was in charge.

It is noted, however, that Korach’s punishment doesn’t seem to fit the crime. Sure, it’s definitely a major ‘chutzpah’ to start up with the greatest leader in history, Moses. You definitely deserve a punishment for stirring up the nation and causing them to doubt Moses. But instant death as a punishment?

It is explained that from here we indeed see the severity of machloket – fighting and divisiveness amongst the Jewish people. Egotistical arguments have no place in Judaism, nor can they be tolerated.

But arguments aren’t always bad. Have you ever realized that there isn’t a single page in the entire Talmud where rabbis aren’t arguing? Have you ever walked into a yeshiva and notice that the noise level in the study hall borders on unbearable due to the yelling back and forth when deliberating a piece of Talmud?

Here’s the key: We must differentiate between venomous and hate-filled arguments and well-intentioned ones. The sages Hillel and Shammai were always fighting but they respected each other throughout all their decades of fighting because each one knew that the other meant well. The “Hillel and Shammai fights” were fights to determine the truth and the will of God, and they were fighting each other to get to the bottom of it. They didn’t care who came out right or wrong…they only sought the truth.

It is not always clear what God wants; the Torah is quite limited in its instruction on how to perform many of the mitzvot (commandments). So Hillel and Shammai would “fight out” their respective interpretations. They wanted to serve God in the most ideal manner. In fact, to show respect to one another, they would often cite their opponent’s argument before their own. How much more sincere can you get?

The Talmud teaches us: “Just as no two faces are exactly alike, likewise no two opinions are exactly alike.” It is explained that just as you are not bothered by the fact that others do not look exactly like you, likewise you should not be bothered by others who do not think exactly like you.

Judaism is not against arguments, but it is against the wrong type of arguments. Arguing for the sake of truth with mutual respect is encouraged, and in fact, it is what made Judaism what it is today.

As the Torah says “Don’t be like Korach!”

For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.

https://unitedwithisrael.org/korach-and-moses-power-hunger-vs-humility/

https://unitedwithisrael.org/fighting-the-good-fight-for-the-sake-of-heaven/

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