Parshas Korach describes the most famous machlokes (dispute) in the Torah, in which Korach and his cohorts challenged the leadership of Moshe Rabbeinu. After Korach, Dassan and Aviram flagrantly initiated the dispute with Moshe and Aaron, Moshe attempted to make peace with them. He first tried to appease Korach, and when that failed, he turned to Dassan and Aviram. “And Moshe called for Dassan and Aviram the sons of Eliav..” Rashi, citing the Medrash Tanchuma, tells us that Moshe was attempting to appease them with divrei Shalom. The Medrash derives from here that one should never persist in a machlokes, rather he should try to make peace.
It is noteworthy that the Torah taught this lesson in the context of the machlokes between Korach’s group and Moshe Rabbeinu. This was a machlokes in which Korach’s group were clearly guilty for initiating the dispute and had conducted themselves in a deplorable manner. Nonetheless, Moshe did not hesitate in attempting to appease them. Moshe’s actions in this incident serve as a powerful lesson for all other disputes. In almost all disputes, each protagonist tends to place all the guilt on his adversary. Consequently, they both refuse to compromise on the matter in hand, insisting that the other side must give in, or apologize. They must learn from Moshe’s conduct in his machlokes - he tried to make peace even though he was genuinely free of blame. The Chasam Sofer zt”l develops the idea that one must make every effort to make peace. He points out that it was very unlikely that Dassan and Aviram would be appeased by Moshe’s words, given their history of constant antagonism towards him. There is a concept in Torah known as chazakah, whereby we presume that the past situation will continue in the same way as it has in the past. According to this principle, there was no need for Moshe to try to appease Dassan and Aviram given the minute chance of success. Nonetheless, the Chasam Sofer writes that we learn from Moshe’s attempts at conciliation, that we do not follow the principle of chazakah with regard to machlokes. This is because machlokes is so damaging that we must make any effort we can to make peace, no matter how unlikely the chances of success.
Dassan and Aviram’s response to Moshe’s attempts at appeasement demonstrates exactly how one should not conduct himself in a machlokes. “.. And they said we will not go up…even if you would put out the eyes of those men, we will not go up!” The Chofetz Chaim zt”l writes that these words demonstrate the extent of the stubbornness of Dassan and Aviram in their refusal to even speak to Moshe. He explains that when they told Moshe that they would not speak to him “even if you put the eyes of those men”, they were referring to their own eyes, and that they would rather have their eyes put out than make peace with Moshe. The Chofetz Chaim teaches from here that some people can become so entrenched in machlokes that they prefer to endure great suffering over ‘losing’ the machlokes. In this vein, he tells of the story of a machlokes which threatened to destroy one of the protagonist’s lives and result in his family being imprisoned. When his desperate wife implored him to give up this destructive machlokes, he replied that he was prepared for himself, his wife and his children to go to prison, as long as he would ‘win’ the machlokes!
Why is it so difficult for protagonists of disputes to attempt reconciliation? One reason is that it is very difficult for a person to recognize that he should assume at least part of the blame for the development of the machlokes. Human nature tends to push people to focus on the failings of others and their own strengths.
Accordingly, when a person is in the midst of a bitter machlokes, it is extremely difficult for him to accept any level of culpability for its escalation. The words of the Malbim on this matter, offer a penetrating insight into the erroneous nature of this attitude.
The Malbim once found himself in the midst of a bitter machlokes. His beleaguered students asked him how such a terrible dispute could take place, given the Torah’s words with regard to the machlokes between Korach and Moshe. The Torah tells us: “There will never be like Korach and his assembly.” The students understood that this means that there will never be such a bitter machlokes again in history. Accordingly, they could not understand how the Malbim could be embroiled in such a machlokes. He explained to them that the Torah’s words that there will never again be such a machlokes have a different meaning. The Torah is telling us that the machlokes of Korach against Moshe was the only one in history in which one side was totally in the wrong and one side was completely in the right. Korach and his associates were totally wrong in their arguments and were fully guilty for the development of the machlokes. Moshe, in contrast, acted in a completely correct and justified manner. When the Torah says that there will never be such a machlokes again, it is telling us that there will never be another machlokes in which one side is totally justified and the other is completely guilty. The Malbim, in his humility, was thus acknowledging that he had to assume some guilt for the machlokes he was involved in . The Malbim’s explanation teaches us that anyone involved in a machlokes is wrong to believe that he is totally in the right, because the Torah testifies that this cannot be the case.
Accordingly, it behooves everyone who finds themselves in a machlokes, to accept responsibility for his role in its escalation. When one does this, it will be easier for him to focus on his guilt in this regard, rather than that of his adversary. By doing this, he should recognize that he needs to rectify his mistakes, and ignore the failings of his ‘enemy’. This attitude will help him emulate Moshe’s actions in appeasing Dassan and Aviram.
During the course of a person’s life, it is inevitable that he will come into some form of conflict with other people. When this happens, the person has a vital choice to make: He can validate his own behavior and stubbornly refuse to admit any failing; or he can swallow his pride, be the ‘bigger’ person, and initiate reconciliation. By taking the second option, the person emulates Moshe Rabbeinu – Moshe was willing to approach Dassan and Aviram despite the fact that they were totally at fault. All the more so this should be the case in all other disputes when both sides must assume responsibility for the machlokes. Such conflicts are not limited to major machlokes, they also include common ‘disagreements’ between spouses, and small spats amongst friends, colleagues, students etc. When a person refuses to budge in such incidents, he only succeeds in prolonging and increasing the bitterness. However, by emulating Moshe, a person will ensure that the Shalom will prevail.