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Parashat Korach: Debates not for the Sake of Heaven

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Every dispute that is for the sake of Heaven, will in the end endure; But one that is not for the sake of Heaven, will not endure. Which is the controversy that is for the sake of Heaven? Such was the controversy of Hillel and Shammai. And which is the controversy that is not for the sake of Heaven? Such was the controversy of Korah and all his congregation. (Ethics of the Fathers, chapter 5)

More than any other time in my memory, our society is engaged in a deep and profound culture war, and the if any issue has brought this battle to a head, it is the recent decision of the Supreme Court to reject fifty years of precedent in the overturning Roe v. Wade. This brewing conflict for decades has now become front and center, a battle that is going to wage in each state house and court, with picket lines drawn, and vicious invective hurled at the other side. Pro-choice demonstrators will frame this as an absolute assault on women, while pro-life demonstrators will carry placards accusing abortion advocates as murderers. In the wake of a court that has abdicated all sense of judicial restraint, it seems like the result will be an absolute power grab for both sides, and each side will advance their own interest. In such a divisive atmosphere that we have created, and now reinforced by the highest court, what chance is there for deeper understanding or respect for one another.

This week I would not like to look at the issue of abortion itself in Jewish thought, but rather the ways in which Americans in general and Jews in particular have framed the debate itself. How can Jewish ethics inform us as to how to engage with those whom we do not agree? In essence, is this a dispute for the sake of heaven or not? That depends upon not only the legitimacy and motivations of our claims, but the ways in which we try to engage one another. What is the difference between a dispute of Korach and Moses and Hillel and Shammai?

Mass conflict and even violence is at the core of our parashah. In our parashah we confront the reality of a full-fledged rebellion against the authority of Moses (and Aaron). This motley group, each pursuing their own personal agendas, are loosely united under the goal of objecting to Moses’ leadership, especially following the debacle of the sin of the spies in last week’s parashah, which resulted in the people vanquishing in the desert for forty years. Our parashah is a case study in how not to engage in dispute.

Datan and Aviram of the tribe of Reuven are two of the leaders of this rebellion. The descendants of the first born of Jacob, they clearly resent that Moses has taken the reigns of authority. The story will not end well for them, as they, their wives and their family will be terrifyingly swallowed alive into the earth. Datan and Aviram see the mass discontent all around them as the perfect time to stage an open challenge -or more accurately a rebellion, and rebel they do:

Moses sent for Datan and Aviram, sons of Eliab; but they said, “We will not come!” Is it not enough that you........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)

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