Korach, Datan and Aviram and 250 leaders of Israel rebel against the authority of Moshe and Aharon. The rebellion results in their being swallowed by the earth. Many resent their death and blame Moshe.
The Jewish Sin
“And Korach took… and they gathered together against Moshe and Aharon…” (15:1-2)
If you were to pick one chronic failing in the Jewish People, what would it be?
Some would say white-collar crime. There’s an old anti-Semitic joke that runs, “Shloime, I heard you had a fire at your factory last week.” “Be quiet Moishe! Next week!” However, the fact that Jews are less likely to indulge in violent crime and more in insurance rackets is probably due to the fact that in Czarist Russia the State was regarded, and rightly so, as an implacable enemy from whom one should “liberate” as much as one could. These traditions die hard and were not always left behind at Ellis Island.
A religious Jew once asked Rabbi Pam, zatzal, for a beracha for his business. Rabbi Pam asked him how he ran his business, and he replied that is was a “cash business,” meaning he didn’t report it to the IRS. Rabbi Pam said that he wasn’t running a business, he was a thief.
In the introduction to his classic eponymous work, “The Chafetz Chaim,” Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaKohen Kagan (1839–1933) lists after the Torah prohibitions related to speech, the prohibition of machloket – acrimonious divisiveness.
The fact that, to the best of my knowledge, there is no one-word English translation for machloket may show that it may possibly be native to the Jewish People. I’ve often thought that a trait of a People may be seen in a word they use that cannot be rendered into another tongue with just a single word. Take the quintessentially French word chic. Is there one single English word that sums that unique French quality meaning fashionable, pretty, understated, etc.?
The Yiddish word to fargin — the altruistic pleasure that one has from another’s success — required me to come up with a whole sentence to define that classic Jewish quality. (Interestingly, there is a single word in German that means the reverse — Schadenfreude — the exquisite pleasure of seeing your enemy falling. How typically Teutonic!)
Machloket is the Jewish failing.
Has there ever been an epoch in Jewish history devoid of divisiveness and disunity, in towns and communities, and the only thing that unites all these divisions is the singular awesome destruction that it has wrought?
In fact, whether machloket is a Torah prohibition or not is itself a machloket (albeit one for the sake of Heaven). The Rambam does not include machloket in his list of Torah prohibitions, whereas Rabbeinu Yonah and the Sma”g do. The Chafetz Chaim adjudicates according to this latter opinion.
The Mishna in Avot (5:17) comments, “What is a machloket for the sake of Heaven? The dispute of Hillel and Shammai.” Only the “Hillel and Shammai” in each generation may allow themselves to have a dispute for the sake of Heaven.
In Mincha, the afternoon prayer of Shabbat, we say, “You (G-d) are One, and Your Name is One, and who is like Your people Israel, one nation in the world?” You can understand this prayer in the reverse order too. If the Jewish People are one, if we are devoid of acrimonious division, then