The Heart of Conflict

The optics were astounding, the words remarkable – the unpredictable President Trump and his spurring partner “Rocket Man”, smiling, walking alongside each other, talking peace and compromise. For now at least, this enduring and deep conflict in Korea appears to be closer to an end…

It’s a promising moment for a world more accustomed to conflict and despair. It’s a timely message for our parasha with its focus on dispute and challenge, namely showing human beings are capable of resolving differences.

But let’s reflect on the message this parasha does give on the nature of deep and divisive disagreements.

Many fights and arguments begin and persist because the people involved aren’t honest about their motives. They may pretend (to themselves as much as to others) that their motives for the arguments are important. They may dress them up in a very noble way like “I’m fighting for a principle” whereas in reality they are being simply selfish or stubborn and find it hard to admit.

The Parasha beautifully illustrates this point: Korach, a cousin of Moses, begins a revolt against him and Aharon saying: “You take too much upon you, since all the congregation are holy”. In other words he claims he wants a people’s democracy not a dictatorship. This powerful argument with its noble revolutionary goals attracts a large group of leading intellectuals and individuals – “250 princes of the community … men of repute”. In reality Korach’s bitter rebellion was spurred by personal reasons, he wanted more power for himself and felt that he had been overlooked when the honours were being handed out. Moshe with his deep understanding of the unconscious prompting of the human heart, unmasks the motives of Korach and his followers:

“Listen now, you sons of Levi, is it not enough that G-d has selected you (to the Levite role of leadership) … yet you want the priesthood as well” (16:10).

At the root of Korach and his followers criticism was pride and jealousy: Korach was upset that his cousin Elitzaphan was appointed to a higher position than him, the 250 leaders were firstborn and resentful that Aharon and his sons had replaced them as Kohanim (priests). The other revolutionaries – Datan, Aviram and On were angry that their tribe of Reuven had lost some of its privileges.

Korach was therefore not motivated by spiritual and democratic ideals. “Broiges”, resentment, and envy – the source of most interpersonal conflicts – were at the heart of his popular revolt. Had Korach delved into his own unconscious he would have recognised that his motives were tainted and driven by egotism.

Korach’s challenge and criticism of Moshe had merit – there is much space for the democratic impulse in Jewish Life. What makes Judaism strong is its ability to tolerate different opinions.  In the passionate debates about the future of Israel and Jewish continuity we need to be sure that we don’t demonise our opponents.  If our goals are “Le Shem Shamayim”, driven by pure and good motives (the continuity of Judaism) then both sides have a right to be heard.

If Korach had plumbed the darkness of his heart and approached Moshe in the spirit of a Jethro who knows what may have been contributed to the human endeavour?

Shabbat Shalom

About the Author
Born in Zimbabwe, raised in South Africa, Rabbi Ralph Genende is a well-known and popular Modern Orthodox Rabbi. Ralph was Senior Rabbi to the Auckland, New Zealand Jewish community for ten years. He then became College Rabbi at Mount Scopus College, member of its Executive Team and Rabbi of Beit Aharon congregation. Currently Rabbi Genende is Senior Rabbi of Caulfield Hebrew Congregation, one of Melbourne’s largest congregations. He was a senior Reserve Chaplain in the South African Defence Force and is now Principal Rabbi to the Australian Defence Force, Member of the Religious Advisory Council to the Minister of Defence (RACS), board member of AIJAC (Australian Israel Jewish Affairs Council) and member of the Premier's Mulitifaith Advisory Group. He was President of JCMA (Jewish Christian Muslim Association) and a long time executive member of the Rabbinical Association of Victoria. He also oversees Yad BeYad a premarital relationship program, is a member of Swinburne University’s Research Ethics Committee and on the Glen Eira City Council’s Committee responsible for its Reconciliation Action Plan for recognition and integration of our first peoples. Ralph has a passion for social justice and creating bridges between different cultures and faiths. For him the purpose of religion is to create a better society for all people and to engage with the critical issues facing Australian society. The role of the rabbi is, in his words, to challenge the comfortable and comfort the challenged. In 2018 Rabbi Genende was awarded an OAM for his services to multi-faith relations, and to the Jewish community of Victoria. Rabbi Genende is a trained counsellor with a Masters degree from Auckland University. He is married to Caron, a psychologist and they have three children – Eyal (who is married to Carly), Daniella and Yonatan and a grandson Ezra.
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