Israel Forever

For the week ending 28 June 2003 / 28 Sivan 5763

Why Coalitions Fail

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
Library Library Library

"Every disagreement which is not for the sake of Heaven will not endure the example is that of Korach and his entire company."

This historic perspective provided by the Talmudic Sages in Pirkei Avot (5:17) refers to what this weeks Torah portion tells of the rebellion of Korach and his cohorts against the authority of Moshe Rabbeinu which ended up with their being swallowed up alive by an opening in the earth.

What is puzzling about the text of this statement is the term "Korach and his company". In the contrasting statement about a disagreement which is for the sake of Heaven, the example given is that of the halachic disputes between the Sages Hillel and Shamai, whose differences arose from their genuine wish to serve G-d by determining exactly what His Torah taught us, a Torah dialogue that is still studied by Jews to this very day. If the parties to this praiseworthy disagreement are identified as Hillel and Shamai, shouldnt the protagonists in the rebellion be identified as Korach and Moshe rather than "Korach and his company"?

The answer provided by the commentaries is that in the coalition that Korach formed to challenge Moshe there was no real unity, only a common interest to replace the Heaven-appointed leader of the nation. While Korachs claim for leadership was based on his status as a Levite, the members of the Tribe of Reuven who joined him felt that they had priority because their ancestor was the firstborn of Yaakovs sons. The 250 distinguished men who rounded out this coalition were populists who felt that leadership belonged to men of talent rather than genealogy. So while they were all lined up against Moshe their disagreement was with each other as well and their coalition could therefore not endure.

Here we have a penetrating analysis of the fragility of coalitions formed out of self-interest, one that explains the history of coalition governments in Israel. Only a coalition formed for Heavens sake can endure and truly lead Israel along a secure and fulfilling path.

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