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Rise Above the Conflict

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Then Moses summoned Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab. But they said, “We will not come!” — Numbers 16:12

The Torah portion for this week is Korach, which means “Korah,” from Numbers 16:1–18:32, and the Haftorah is from 1 Samuel 11:14–12:22.

Stan Mikita is a retired professional ice hockey player who was widely regarded as the best center from the 1960s. Mikita was notorious for getting into a lot of fights during games, and as a consequence, spending a lot of time in the penalty box. He stopped, however, when his eight-year-old daughter innocently asked him a very grown-up question: “How can you score any goals when you’re always in the penalty box?”

If nothing else, the message of this week’s Torah portion about the rebellion against Moses and Aaron is that fighting is bad for everyone. Certainly, there are times to stand up for what’s right and even to fight for it, but that’s not the kind of fighting that we are talking about, nor is it the kind of fighting that took place in this week’s reading. This rebellion was led by egotistical and jealous leaders with unjustifiable ulterior motives.

In Judaism, there is a special Hebrew term used for such quarrels. It’s called machloket, and when the Hebrew letters are scrambled differently, they spell chelek mavet, meaning “partial death.” Such gripes and fighting are a kind of death, and in the case of Korah and his followers, that fighting resulted literally in death. Korah’s rebellion not only led to his death, but also the death of his 250 followers and another 15,000 Israelites who died from the after-effects of the rebellion. Such petty, yet cruel, fighting has been likened to secondhand smoke. It pollutes the air and harms many innocent people.

Still, the ones who hurt most from engaging in such fighting are the aggressors themselves. In our portion, we read that Moses reached out to Dathan and Abiram, Korah’s co-supporters. Moses extended his hand in peace. Yet, the response of Dathan and Abiram was: “We will not come!” They were so wrapped up in their egos and personal issues that they were unwilling to “give peace a chance.” The Jewish sages point out that in the original Hebrew, Dathan and Abiram’s words literally translate as “We will not ascend.” With those words, they literally sealed their own fate. When they rebuffed Moses, they became destined to descend into the pit, never to ascend again.

It might seem like we are acting weak and lowering ourselves when we step away from a fight or when we try to make amends. But the truth is that when it’s appropriate to reach out in fellowship and forgiveness, we only rise higher. So many people allow their pride to get in the way. They think they are securing their high position by refusing to yield to another. But as we learn from this week’s reading, when we are prideful, we ultimately fall; yet when we humble ourselves as Moses did, we will only rise higher.

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