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June 18, 1993 - Image 46

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1993-06-18

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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STUART FRIEDMAN

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Some Controversy
Works For Unity

RABBI IRWIN GRONER

SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS

The Torah portion describes a
great mutiny, led by Korach of
the tribe of Levi, who was
jealous of the authority of
Moses and intent upon wrest-
ling the leadership of the peo-
ple from Moses' hand.
The revolt led to a state of
anarchy until the complete
vindication of Moses was
necessary. The rebels were
destroyed, and Moses and
Aaron were restored to their
positions of eminence.
Centuries later, the sages
who analyzed the story realiz-
ed that the issue it presented
was not simple. Did Korach
have the right to rise up
against Moses? Is all revolt
against authority wrong?
Should differences of opinion
never be tolerated? Are there
occasions when controversy is
both desirable and necessary?
The sages made a distinc-
tion in the fifth chapter of
Pirke Avot, the Ethics of the
Fathers. They said: "Every
controversy which is in the
name of heaven is destined to
endure, and that which is not
in the name of heaven is not
destined to endure. Which is
the controversy in the name
of heaven? That is the con-
troversy of Hillel and Sham-
mai. And that which is not
the name of heaven? That is
the controversy of Korach and
his group."
Arguments "in the name of
heaven" are characterized by
two essential attitudes. In the
first place, there is a sincerity
of purpose on both sides not to
gain a victory, not to win
power or prestige, but to
establish truth and fairness.
The welfare of all is the
primary consideration.
Secondly, participants in
conflict, in spite of their pro-
found disagreement, are
keenly aware of the things
that unite them. This basic
affirmation of unity tran-
scends differences in thought
and outlook and keeps both
groups continuously con-
scious of the fact that
although paths differ, the
final goals are the same.
Korach, in his rebellion
against Moses, was not con-
cerned with the survival of
the people. In order to achieve
his ambition, he was prepared
to allow a fatal schism to
develop. Korach wanted
power, even at the expense of

Irwin Groner is senior rabbi of

Congregation Shaarey Zedek.

the unity of Israel. He re-
jected the spiritual values of
the Torah.
The controversy between
Hillel and Shammai, on the
other hand, was that between
two leaders who put Judaism
first and themselves second.
Today, however, for many
reasons, we tend to cast a
distrustful eye upon con-
troversy. The very term im-
plies unpleasantness, dissen-
sion and injury. We feel that
controversy is dangerous. It

Shabbat Korach:
Numbers
16:1-18:32,
28:9-15
Isaiah 66:1-24.

widens risks; it promotes
anarchy. For the sake of main-
taining discipline and a state
of uniformity, it would be bet-
ter if controversy were curb-
ed. The sages would argue
that this attitude is incorrect.
Undoubtedly, many contro-
versies are unnecessary and
detrimental; but if all con-
troversy were denied, some of
the most vital forces in
society will have been
suppressed.
Controversy makes possible
the growth of truth and the
advancement of human wel-
fare. Differences of opinion
stimulate further study and
more intense inquiry. The
Babylonian Talmud, a monu-
mental achievement of tradi-
tional Judaism, is largely
based upon' intellectual con-
troversies between scholars
and their schools.
Our system of government
is predicated on the existence
of a permanent conflict be-
tween political parties. The
continuous rivalry between
the Democrats and the
Republicans is the safeguard
of democracy and the best
assurance of continued pro-
gress. The party not in power
has the duty of maintaining
a critical eye on all acts of the
new administration. Once a
party becomes strong enough
or influential enough to sup-
press differences by force or
power, democracy is in
danger. We should treasure
our opponents for they
challenge us to defend and ar-
ticulate the truths we hold
dear. ❑

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