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May we merit to choose the path of truth



Rabbi Sam Thurgood

Beit Midrash Morasha @ Arthur’s Road

This contrasts with the great arguments of the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai which, although intense and prolonged (and at times even bitter) to the extent that our Sages said that a tragic situation arose at the height of their argument that “it was as if there were two Torahs” – the Hillel-Torah and the Shammai-Torah – nevertheless since this was for the sake of Heaven, it was viewed as something of which Hashem approved.

Regarding Korach, however, the Sfat Emet (the great Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter, rebbe of Ger 1847-1905) asks: Is the only problem with Korach that it was not for the sake of Heaven? It was an argument that involved many great sins, a rebellion against Moshe that cost hundreds of lives – surely it is missing the point if we describe this destructive conflagration as simply “an argument not for the sake of Heaven”!

The Sfat Emet explains that in fact Korach was destined to serve as the counterpoint to Aharon – using a few famous examples in the history of Torah scholarship – The Hillel to his Shamai, the Abaye to his Rova, the Raavad to his Rambam. Korach was given great wisdom and a unique perspective and he could have enriched Jewish life immeasurably by challenging Aharon and presenting a new path in the service of Hashem.

However, this path is only constructive and desirable if a person is willing and able to negate his own self-interest in the service of Hashem. Only if he is able to seek the truth as he sees it, regardless of where this leaves him, regardless of the implications upon his career, or standing in the community, or the agenda to which he has devoted himself – only if he is able to acknowledge he is wrong when shown to be so.

This characterises the great disputes of Torah thought – fighting with all of one’s energy to find and display the truth – and as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says “being defeated by the truth is the only form of defeat that is also a victory”, provided of course that we are ultimately interested in the truth.

Korach and his congregation went wrong not in challenging Aharon – that was their sacred duty – but in their self-interest, in losing focus on the sake of Heaven, and somehow finding themselves arguing for the sake of Korach.

At that point, even great and terrible sins can come about, as ego and status are harsh taskmasters that do not easily relinquish a person once they have him in their grasp – and destruction inevitably followed.

May we merit to choose the path of truth, the truth greater than our own selves, that we are willing to submit to the will of Hashem, and find that paradoxically, we have found our true selves.

Shabbat shalom.

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