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Bible calls upon humanity to try to make peace

By Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal

Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal

SAN DIEGO–In this week’s parasha we find one of the most infamous disputes in Jewish history: that of Korach and his followers. Korach led an uprising agaisngt Moses and Aaron.  He wanted to remove them from leadership and make himself the ruler instead.

Moses challenged Korach to a “duel.” Korach and Aaron would each offer incense. The person whose incense God accepted would be validated as the true leader of Israel. The loser would die an unnatural death.

God accepted Aaron’s incense offering, but the earth opened up and swallowed  Korach and his followers.

Moses and Aaron were the legitimate rulers. Korach was not!

Before proposing the duel, Moses tried to make peace with Korach and his followers.  “Moses called Korach, Datan and Abiram.” (Num. 16:12) He wanted to meet with them to discuss an equitable way of settling the dispute. They refused and met an ignominious end.

Rashi says, “From this we learn that one should never perpetuate a dispute: Moses and Aaron sought them out to appease them with words of peace.” That is, despite the fact that Moshe and Aaron were impugned by Korach, and there was not question of who was right and who was wrong, they went out of their way to make shalom with their enemies.

Rabbi Abraham Shmuel Binyamin Sofer, who wrote the famous work Ketav Sofer, says that we would be justified to be surprised by Moses’ response to the rebels. After all, on a previous occasion when Moses tried to solve a dispute he not only failed but was almost killed for his trouble!

When was this? In Egypt, after he killed an Egyptian taskmaster beating a Hebrew slave. He thought there were not witnesses. However, “When he went out the next day he found two  Hebrews fighting; so he said to the offender, ‘Why do you strike your fellow?’ He retorted, ‘Who made you chief and ruler over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?’ Moses was frightened…When Pharaoh learned of the matter, he sought to kill Moses; but Moses fled from Pharaoh.” (Ex. 2:13-15) In retrospect, Moses may have considered that it would have been better not to interfere.

Nevertheless, when Korach rebelled Moses decided that the risk of making peace was greater than the risk of ignoring or inflaming the dispute. He did his best to bring Korach to the bargaining table. In doing so he set an example for his people and decedents, living through his deeds the teaching of the Sages: “One should never perpetuate a dispute.”

The Ketav Sofer concludes that when you see people arguing you should never say that there is no possibility of agreement and keep your distance, but rather you should get involved and patiently counsel the disputants to set aside their grudges and emotions and compromise to make peace. (Shivim Panim l’Torah, Numbers, p.114)

Creating peace is a great mitzvah, one we should all pursue.

(Please feel free to forward this email to the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, etc.!)

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Rosenthal is the spirtual leader of Tifereth Israel Synagogue in San Diego

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