"You shall not be like Korach and all his assembly" Numbers 17:5

By Rabbi Daniel Rowe, June 20, 2014

Few can fail to recognise the catastrophic consequences of disunity and strife. Arguments and feuds tear apart families, communities and nations. Yet dispute is inescapable. If we care about any issue that concerns more then just ourselves, then sooner or later we will encounter significant disagreements over areas that we feel matter. How, then, might we escape the devastation that the well-intentioned disputants frequently wreak?

The Mishnah sees Korach's argument with Moses as the paradigm of the wrong type of dispute - in contrast to Hillel and Shammai "disputes for the sake of heaven". But Korach was equally convinced that he was fighting for the sake of heaven. How then, might we tell one from another? There is one tell-tale sign. Hillel would never quote his own opinion without quoting that of Shammai first. They understood that Torah is the divine intellect, beyond the grasp of any human mind. Its multifaceted interpretative potential reflects an actual reality that no human mind can grasp alone.

The radical thesis of "dispute for the sake of heaven" then is this: no single human can grasp the mind of God, but together we can. Torah is too big for one mind, but not too big for many.

Korach believed he had all of the truth; anything else was a damaging falsehood. Hillel, likewise could see only one side, but understood that to grasp reality required perceptual tools greater than he possessed alone. Working, even arguing, together, they could access wisdom greater than either possessed alone.

The antidote to damaging dispute is not to care less; it is to care more. It is to recognise that while there may well be some views that are wrong, there is no perspective complete enough not to require another.

Last updated: 3:26pm, June 20 2014