When was the last time you talked to someone you truly disagree with?
Parshat Korach provides insight into how to have a healthy debate.
When Korach and his followers spoke out against Moshe’s leadership, the midrash explains that Moshe’s approach was to try to engage in dialogue with them. He invited them with “peaceful words” in an attempt at reconciliation. But, says the midrash, Korach knew that if he talked to Moshe he might be persuaded by his arguments and refused to engage. The same was true for other leaders of the rebellion, Datan and Aviram, who refused to “go up” and speak with Moshe (and because of this their punishment was to be brought down and swallowed by the earth). The midrash highlights the problematic nature of this dispute. Korach and his group would not engage and chose to remain in their own echo chamber. They had no interest in having a relationship with Moshe or in reaching reconciliation. This may be the reason why Pirkei Avot teaches that a machloket for “the sake of heaven” is like the disputes between Hillel and Shammai – both sides are mentioned. A machloket “not for the sake of heaven” is like the debate between Korach and his assembly – the other side is not even mentioned. They refused to recognize, engage with and speak to the other side.
This week an inspiring event took place: a prominent Israeli Orthodox rabbi and a French female Reform rabbi participated in a panel called “Who’s afraid to Talk?” We don’t need to agree with each other. But we do need to acknowledge and engage with each other. That’s what our parsha teaches us about machloket “for the sake of heaven.” Shabbat Shalom