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29 Sivan 5761 - June 20, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
When is Machlokes Considered Like Sholom?

by HaRav Yehoshua Rosenberg

It is one of the wonders of our Holy Torah, one of its hidden secrets, something that stems from its inner essence, that the interpretation of Rashi on a posuk that we studied in the dawn of our youth accompanies us the rest of our life, even though we may have meanwhile grown to be Torah giants and have plumbed its hidden treasures. Its understanding, nonetheless, does change and comes to fit each time and age according to one's individual spiritual world.

Many are familiar with Rashi's explanation on the first posuk in parshas Korach, in which Yaakov Ovinu's name is not mentioned: "Yaakov wanted his name not to be mentioned in connection with the machlokes of Korach -- `Let my soul not come into their secret' (Bereishis 49:6)."

We must now advance into the field of analytic study. At the doorway to its magnificent revelations we shall ask a simple question: What difference does it make whether Yaakov Ovinu's name is or is not mentioned concerning Korach's machlokes? After all, every child knows that Levi, the father of Kehos, who was the father of Yitzhar, who was the father of Korach, was Yaakov's son. Furthermore, Yaakov's name is anyway mentioned in Divrei HaYomim as being the forefather of Korach in connection to this machlokes -- as indicated by Rashi.

It should be pointed out that in the past Yaakov was also involved in dissension, such as with Esav and with his father-in-law Lovon. When one is permitted to dissent forcefully from another person is dictated by distinct and defined rules. Just as with putting on tefillin or fulfilling the mitzvah of lulav clear halachic guidelines exist, so it is with this matter and others like it.

There is, though, a difference between the two matters: concerning tefillin a novice in halocho would never express an opinion, but concerning questions of waging a machlokes every ordinary person has his "authoritative" opinion. It is if he has scrutinized the topic from all sides and angles, despite his not being at all intellectually capable of doing so. There are many rules with regard to what a machlokes is and when and under what specific conditions it is allowed. Not every person really has the right to voice his view about such matters.

The root of this intricate and cryptic matter stems from creation's genesis and its Divinely intended objective. "In the beginning of the creation by Elokim of the heavens and the earth" (Bereishis 1:1). Chazal teach us that the world was created "for Yisroel who are called reishis."

We must explain in which way Jews are called reishis. I once heard the explanation that the concept reishis means beginning, origin. Yisroel received from Hashem the power to originate, the strength to start everything from its very beginning, to change, to swim against the stream. This is actually creation's aim: the ability to change and transform things, to be able to stop events from proceeding in their normal course.

A person who is tomei as a zov immerses himself in a natural spring to be metaheir himself, not in a mikveh. Only water flowing in its pristine form can be metaheir him. Tumah's strength is in its powerful gushing, catching people in the torrent of life, unable to resist its pull. Eliminating tumah can be done by attaching oneself to the origin, to one's source. A Jew must always stand close to his starting point since he will find spiritual stimulation by it.

The prerequisite for gaining Torah knowledge and fulfilling His mitzvos is: "And it shall come to pass, if you hearken diligently to My commandments which I command you this day" (Devorim 11:13) -- "that they shall be new for you as if you had heard them that same day" (Rashi, citing the Sifrei). The world was not created for those who are dislodged by every mild breeze from their chosen way, who are jostled by any common wind back and forth like a sapling tree.

As mentioned, this was alluded to at the beginning of creation. This characteristic passed from the greatest individuals in one generation to those in the next. It reached Avrohom Ovinu, was conveyed to Yitzchok Ovinu, and was finally transferred to Yaakov Ovinu. This is the capability of having one's own distinctive opinion, to detach oneself from others -- all of which is the root of machlokes.

However, when to stand up against the tide, when to fight back, is one of the hidden secrets transmitted from one generation to the other by the gedolei hador. Moshe Rabbenu went to Doson and Aviron in order not to further a machlokes. Is it not amazing what Moshe did? They dissented from him -- not he from them -- but still Moshe was the one to approach the other side!

Zimri ben Solu, the nosi of the tribe of Shimon, impudently confronts Moshe and disgracefully rebukes him: "Who permitted you to marry the daughter of Yisro?" In this incident the person who later initiated the machlokes was Pinchas ben Elazar who, by standing up against Zimri's sin of gilui aroyos and his challenge to Moshe, was rewarded with the promise, "I hereby give him My covenant of peace" (Bamidbar 25:12).

But is sholom the fitting reward for a baal machlokes? The popular criticism against Pinchas ben Elazar was that his mother's father worshiped avodoh zorah, and that he had killed Zimri, the nosi of a shevet. But did the nosi of sheivet Shimon not sin by being mezaneh? Did he not talk and act audaciously against Moshe Rabbenu, the leader of Klal Yisroel? To understand this matter properly one must deeply contemplate the real meaning of what happened.

"Pinchas is Eliyahu" (Midrash Shochar Tov). Eliyahu continued the way of initiating a machlokes just as Pinchas did: Eliyahu swore that rain would not fall (I Melochim 17:1), and when Achav later met Eliyahu he called him "the troubler of Yisroel" (ibid., 18:17) and claimed that because of him -- his being over zealous and creating a machlokes -- all of the sheep and cattle had died and Klal Yisroel were hungry for bread.

Eliyahu's answer was resolute: "Not I have troubled Yisroel, but rather you and your father's house, by forsaking the mitzvos of Hashem!" (v. 19). We had thought that Eliyahu was a mild, soft-natured person, a good-hearted and compassionate man. What happened to his good-heartedness and temperate character? Look at the way he answered Achav back!

In addition, why does the posuk herald, "Behold, I am sending you Eliyahu the novi before the coming of the great and awesome day of Hashem" (Mal'achi 3:23)? Why was Eliyahu the one chosen to be the shaliach who announces to us the imminent redemption?

After studying this matter more profoundly our confusion grows. The Torah indicates that Pinchas was the "son of Elozor ben Aharon" -- a descendant of Aharon Hacohen -- because the shevotim were demeaning him owing to his maternal grandfather having been a priest of avodoh zorah (Rashi, Bamidbar 25:11). The posuk tells us that his zealous act stemmed from his inherited nature derived from Aharon. What has Aharon to do with the attribute of zealousness and the power of making a machlokes, which Pinchas obviously possessed? The way of Pinchas was apparently the diametric opposite of Aharon's way of being a "person who pursues peace and loves peace" (Pirkei DeR' Eliezer 17:1).

Another related saying of Chazal's (Brochos 64a) is that "Talmidei chachomim increase peace in the world, as it is said: `And all your children will be students of Hashem, and your children will have great peace' (Yeshaya 54:13) -- do not read bonoyich (your children) but bonayich (your builders). Where do we see that Torah scholars increase peace? On the contrary, the entire gemora is full of machlokos between the tannaim, the amoraim, and later between the rishonim, acharonim, and poskim. A seemingly total lack of harmony exists among them.

To disperse the analytical haze encompassing this matter and to contrive the necessary definitions for this weighty subject, it is necessary to start from the last difficulty rather than the first. "And all your children will be students of Hashem" -- being the "students of Hashem" is an indispensable condition for emerging from shallowness and common, superficial understanding. Every new subject studied by the "students of Hashem" smashes part of the disgraceful foundations of man's soul. Wisdom removes a person from the superficiality in which his soul is enslaved.

Doing so is like constructing a new creation -- a primal entity. The primordial intelligence depends upon its accompanying imagination. To a person something appears in a certain way, but his imagination makes it appear differently. Refining one's intelligence and sharpening it by way of intensive Torah study forces him to sever himself from imagination, from shallow comprehension and seeing things in only a skin-deep fashion.

Incidentally, I once heard in the name of an astute man that studying a daf of gemora is actually an exact science: if a person is mistaken in understanding the beginning of a topic, later on, in another line or two, he is forced to stop, since he cannot explain the continuation.

The world does not exist for those -- although they are the majority -- who let their intelligence and spiritual talents remain in their basic state, as Hashem granted them at birth. The world was created and intended for those who utilize and develop their talents. It was definitely not made for those whose intelligence functions at the age of forty, fifty, sixty and above, until late in old age, in the same way as when they abandoned its development at the ripe age of fourteen, twenty or twenty-one. They afterwards stored away their intelligence in moth-balls, letting it remain as is.

When a Jew ascends to values of kedushah, when he has studied Torah in depth, he must become different from his environment. He himself must change and become different from what he was beforehand. And behold, what are the results?

He has become a baal machlokes with his nearby surroundings and still more with his faraway surroundings. In fact, the common people continually become farther from him as he advances in studying the Holy Torah of Hashem.

A person's untiring effort to reach his internal point of truth and reveal his soul's innermost layers, puts him in a real battle with himself and his surroundings using all rules of warfare in this internal and external war. The aim: that the point of truth will triumph and steer him to the coveted objective -- resigning himself to the real truth and recognizing it. It is in this way that the "children" have become "builders." "And your children will have great peace" refers to those who consistently build themselves. They destroy, break down, and win over the remains of shallowness and their primordial condition. They build for themselves the special level fitting those privileged to become Torah scholars.

Each part of the Torah, each bit of knowledge, is broken up into levels that must be dislodged from their initial state until they attain their necessary splendor. Each part and detail necessitates an internal battle with the aim of advancing from this initial stage and reforming ourselves according to what our contemplation of the holy Torah instructs us to do. The person who is perfecting himself in Torah knowledge, the talmid chochom, faces an internal and external battle.

On the one hand he must fight against those who see life as one- dimensional, imagining that we must derive from life all the pleasures and personal benefits we can; and on the other he must fight against those whose secular life is not gleaned from daas Torah, and are left deficient by their limited understanding of what life really is. They have left their life in its coarse, limited form. They have allowed the crude and unfinished elements to lead their life. "And Yaakov lifted up his feet" (Bereishis 29:1). There are those who explain that Yaakov lifted up his feet and did not let his feet lift him up. He governed himself and did not let lowly elements control him.

Now we can understand what Rashi wrote (cited above): that the Torah traced Pinchas's lineage after people criticized him because his maternal grandfather worshiped idols. The foundation of a baal machlokes is from Aharon Hacohen, who was a lover and pursuer of peace. It stems from the attribute of "Seek peace and pursue it" (Tehillim 34:15). This is mandatory for the genuine zealous person, for a baal machlokes who is zealous lesheim shomayim. His foundation must be in making peace.

But the true peace maker is not someone who is ready to reconcile himself to everyone. There is a machlokes that is entirely ingrained in the pursuit of peace, in drawing others close. "And He shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children" (Mal'achi 3:24) refers to someone who is capable of holding a spear. There is a war that is peace, and there is peace that is entirely war, separation, alienation and fragmenting. An external conglomeration of interests and calculation of benefits is like the loading of a bomb that will lead to a more intense and internal confrontation.

Pinchas is Eliyahu, who stood up and waved his spear against Achav. Because of his abundant ahavas Yisroel he was ready to battle for peace. This is all done in order to bring Yisroel nearer to their Father in Heaven: "And Eliyahu the Tishbi, who was of the inhabitants of Gilad, said to Achav, `As Hashem the Elokim of Yisroel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew or rain these years, but according to my word' " (I Melochim 17:1). After three years of terrible famine that devastated the basis for life in Eretz Yisroel, out of sheer despair Achav commanded Ovadia, who was his major-domo, to find Eliyahu and to force him to stop the famine. When they eventually met (after Eliyahu initiated the meeting) Achav scowled at Eliyahu: "Is it you, you troubler of Yisroel?" Eliyahu's response was that the real troubler of Yisroel was Achav.

The right to announce to Klal Yisroel "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that brings good tidings, that announces peace; that brings good tidings of good, that announces salvation; that says to Tzion, your Elokim reigns!" (Yeshaya 22:7) belongs exclusively to Eliyahu. He is ready for war, prepared for a battle with Am Yisroel, since at the End of Days it will be shown that what seemed to be a war only brought the Redemption closer.

"And Yaakov was a tomim, dwelling in tents" (Bereishis 25:27). He was the one who faced Esav, "the cunning hunter" in order to save the exploited one from the exploiter. The bechorah, the continuation of Avrohom and Yitzchok, was about to be possessed by someone whose whole life was untamed and reckless, traits that characterize the field -- "a man of the field."

Yaakov had to save the bechorah from him. The tomim uses ways of cunning, antagonism and machlokes, to obtain the sublime aim that he has identified. In the same way Yaakov, the tomim, acted in order to gain Yitzchok's brocho. Yitzchok afterwards conceded to Yaakov's receiving the brocho: "Moreover he shall be blessed" (Bereishis 27:33) -- i.e., the brocho arrived at the right place. If Yaakov had left the bechorah and the brocho with Esav, would this have been the real sholom, sholom meaning sheleimus and unity?

Yaakov Ovinu, however, knew what machlokes is permitted and what not. He analyzed the nature of Korach's machlokes and diagnosed it according to its blend of converse personalities: Korach with Doson and Avirom, On Ben Peles with bnei Reuven. What connection did one have with the other? These were not the qualities of "opposing," of machlokes, and of "separating" that Yaakov bequeathed to the subsequent generations, qualities that fulfilled Creation's inner goal. "Let my soul not come into their secret" -- this was not the "secret" of machlokes that he endowed them with.

This secret is transmitted through tradition by the elders of the gedolei hador. They understand the Creation's aim through what the Torah teaches them. They have gained this knowledge both through their persistent efforts to study the Torah and comprehend it deeply and through its secrets being transmitted to them by earlier chachomim -- "Serving the Torah (i.e., helping Torah sages and thus becoming close to them) is greater than studying it" (Brochos 7b).

In the opinion of those who are pulled hither and yon by the forceful current of superficiality, Torah scholars will always be considered dissenters, those who always go against what is accepted, who do not engage in constructive activities. However, the refinement of the truth, the melting of the primordial, will only be where materialistic life is melted into a spiritual one, where mundane life is uplifted. This is the Creation's initial intent and objective: "Bereishis -- for Yisroel who are called reishis."

HaRav Yehoshua Rosenberg is a rosh yeshiva in Yeshivas Me'or Yisroel in Netanyah.

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