Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, the Chief Rabbi of Yerushalayim, and Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, the Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael in the early 1900’s, embodied very different views concerning the Jewish people and the development of the State of Israel. One time, they were both asked to attend a bris. They reached the door of the shul at the same time. Rav Sonnenfeld said to Rav Kook, “You are the Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael — you should enter first.” Rav Kook responded, “We are in Yerushalayim and you are the chief rabbi of this city. You should go first.” In the end, they agreed to walk in at the same time. These two great rabbis, despite their many disagreements, had tremendous respect and feelings of friendship for each other.
When learning the parsha of Korach and Korach’s revolt, we picture a rabble rouser who attempted a coup against Moshe and Aharon. The Mishna in Avos (5:20) contrasts the dispute between Hillel and Shammai with Korach and his assembly. Any argument for the sake of heaven is like that of Hillel and Shammai – it will have a constructive outcome. But any argument that is not for the sake of heaven is like that of Korach and his assembly – it will not have a constructive outcome. This Mishna is puzzling: the only description the Mishna can find about the argument of Korach is that it wasn’t for the sake of heaven! Isn’t it obvious the whole scenario was based on pure greed and inflated ego?
Rav Yeruchom Levovitz explains the Mishna is teaching us that Korach was indeed a very righteous and worthy person and had a special desire to come close to Hashem. This inner drive propelled his wish to be Kohen Gadol and leader of Klal Yisroel. Korach truly believed he was disagreeing with Moshe being Kohen Gadol for theright reasons! However, deep down, Korach’s argument was rooted in an ulterior motive. His true motive of desiring honor was very subtle and almost undetected. If not for the Mishna revealing it to us, we would not have known. This is illustrated by the fact Moshe had to request a public miracle from Hashem to clearly demonstrate that Korach and his entourage were incorrect. Therefore, the earth miraculously opened and swallowed up Korach and his assembly to demonstrate to all, Hashem’s choice of Moshe and Aharon.
This is a very telling lesson. People have disagreements, arguments, and disputes. Yet, who can truly say that their disagreement is one hundred percent for the sake of heaven? The Maharal says that machlokes – argument – has a magnetic pull that draws others in. People will rationalize and justify, but in truth, they would be better off realizing machlokes is like a burning fire we should run away from. Even more so when we know we are right!
The Zohar says Korach, with his argumentativeness, did not follow the true concept of Shabbos. The Sfas Emes explains that Shabbos is the symbol of peace – shalom. The two go hand in hand. In the Friday night tefilos (prayers), we conclude Lecho Dodiwith the words Bo’i beshalom – come in peace – as we welcome in the Shabbos. Indeed, we greet each other on Shabbos with Shabbat Shalom.
Shalom is a sign of true harmony. There is a special attribute of peace and harmony which is present on Shabbos. No matter what happens in a particular week, Shabbos comes and brings shalom. Shabbos is a time we can recognize that even when having a disagreement with someone, we are both servants of Hashem. And Hashem wants…that we get along!
The litmus test to determine whether an argument is for proper reasons is whether we can sit down at the same table together and enjoy the other person’s company. This is expressed on Shabbos as families come together and eat Shabbos meals together. Communally, we come together to daven on Shabbos. If we can’t sit together, there’s a problem. Remember that Rav Sonnenfeld and Rav Kook were able to walk through the door together and have a wonderful friendship, despite their diametrically opposed views.