Who doesn’t love a good argument? Whether as participant or spectator, for many there is a thrill in expressing opposing ideas and hearing the responses elicited. “Taking sides” is a natural human reaction when presented with a choice.
The Mishna in Pirkei Avot (5:17) teaches that:
כָּל מַחֲלוֹקֶת שֶׁהִיא לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם, סוֹפָהּ לְהִתְקַיֵּם. וְשֶׁאֵינָהּ לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם, אֵין סוֹפָהּ לְהִתְקַיֵּם. אֵיזוֹ הִיא מַחֲלוֹקֶת שֶׁהִיא לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם, זוֹ מַחֲלוֹקֶת הִלֵּל וְשַׁמַּאי. וְשֶׁאֵינָהּ לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם, זוֹ מַחֲלוֹקֶת קֹרַח וְכָל עֲדָתוֹ:
Every argument that is for [the sake of] heaven’s name, it is destined to endure. But if it is not for [the sake of] heaven’s name — it is not destined to endure. What is [an example of an argument] for [the sake of] heaven’s name? The argument of Hillel and Shammai. What is [an example of an argument] not for [the sake of] heaven’s name? The argument of Korach and all of his congregation.
Some arguments are noble in nature, such as the discourse between study partners learning Torah together in the Beit Midrash. It is not about power or egos but rather the pure pursuit to reach the truth.
Disagreements turn ugly when it involves a selfish agenda, desire for glory, or when the argument is just an end unto itself (arguing for arguing’s sake).
Parshat Korach tells of the challenge for leadership against Moshe and Aharon by Korach and his “gang”. When referencing the argument, the Mishna in Avot only refers to Korach and his people while not mentioning the names of Moshe and Aharon as players in the dispute.
The reason is simple. While Korach was only out for his own interests, Moshe and Aharon took their stand for the sake of heaven. They were defending the glory of G-d, not their own honor.
Moshe and Aharon are pillars of the Jewish people while Korach and his followers fell into the abyss (literally) of infamy.
While it is sad that people like Korach let their ego get the best of them, the deeper tragedy lies with those who let themselves be sucked into the fray. In most cases, these people are innocent bystanders but can’t resist joining the fight.
The Talmud in Chulin (89A) says that the world exists due to one who restrains his or her mouth during an argument, as it is written: “…The world is suspended on nothing (תולה ארץ על בלימה)”. This means that when a person decides to contribute nothing to an argument, they are, in fact, preserving peace.
War and destruction come from disagreements that get out of hand. Peace and goodwill result from the ability to restrain ourselves and compromise with our rivals.
There are many temptations in our daily lives to argue with others- it’s actually quite easy to pick a fight about any and all subjects. With the constant barrage of news and opinions, whether based on fact or not, we are constantly goaded into taking a side. Many of these “debates” are the result, or cause of, Loshon Hara, evil speech. Beyond the inherent sins in speaking or accepting Loshon Hara, is the negative atmosphere that such discourse creates.
Our actions have enormous effect. We can enflame a situation by expressing an opinion or diffuse it through silence or wisdom.
When confronted with a dispute, one should first analyze what are the goals of each side.
Is it the pursuit of truth and justice or fueling of egos and desire? Take a deep breath and a good look. Do I want to be a part of this?
That pause to reflect, rather than offering a rash response, could make the difference between sustaining the world through restraint or fanning a fire that leads to tragedy, G-d forbid.
May all of our actions be for the sake of heaven and each other.