by HaRav Zev Leff
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Shalom & Machlokes | The Power of Women
Shalom and Machlokes
Any dispute that is for the sake of Heaven will have a constructive outcome; but one that is not for the sake of Heaven will not have a constructive outcome. What sort of dispute was for the sake of Heaven? The dispute between Hillel and Shammai. And which was not for the sake of Heaven? The dispute of Korach and his entire company (Pirkei Avos 5:20).
The Mishnah describes Korach’s rebellion as the epitome of machlokes (strife) that is not for the sake of Heaven, and juxtaposes Korach and Aharon, as the exemplars of contentiousness and peacefulness, respectively.
To properly understand the curse of machlokes (strife), we must first investigate the meaning of shalom. Shalom is not merely the absence of strife or disagreement, but a state of peaceful serenity. It is precisely through the interaction of opposites, of fire and water, that G-d is described as the One Who makes peace. Machlokes leshem shamayim, argument for the purpose of reaching truth, is the epitome of shalom.
The Kohanim, who are the representatives of shalom -- servants in the Beis Hamikdash, the place of shalom -- were consecrated by killing their relatives who served the Golden Calf. And Pinchas was initiated into the kehunah by Hashem and given the convenant of shalom as a result of his slaying of Zimri and Kosbi.
True shalom is the achievement of perfection, the harmonious functioning of the world. As long as evil and evildoers destroy this harmony, there can be no shalom. There is no shalom, says Hashem, concerning the wicked (Yeshayahu 57:21). Hence, true shalom is conditional on destroying evil.
When David sought to build the Beis Hamikdash, he was told by the prophet that he could not build the house of shalom because his hands were covered with the blood of battle. At the same time, Hashem told David that he could not build the Beis Hamikdash because if he were to build it, it would be eternal, and Hashem reserved the option to destroy the Mikdash -- to vent his anger on wood and stones -- if the people sinned (Eichah Rabbah 4:14).
The tranquillity and shalom of Shlomo’s reign was marked by the absence of war. Such a passive shalom could not produce an eternal House of Peace. David, however, was the epitome of an aggressive shalom, one that included the preservation of harmony through aggressive means when necessary. Such a shalom could create an eternal House of Peace.
Perfection is not the province of any individual. The Jewish people, says the Chafetz Chaim, are like an army, which can only be successful if all its varied divisions are represented and united towards a common goal. Today there are a variety of authentic approaches to the Torah -- all faithful to the observance of the 613 mitzvos as elucidated in the Written and Oral Torah. These approaches differ only in emphasis, but there is a natural tendency for each group to feel that only its approach is correct.
In the World to Come, however, says the Gemara at the end of Tannis, Hashem will make a great circle dance for all the tzakkikim, with Himself in the middle. Then, says the Chafetz Chaim, two tzaddikim who had diametrically opposed approaches will find themselves facing one another across the circle. Each will realize that he and his opposite are both equidistant from the center. Nor will the circle be stationary. Each tzaddik will dance around and occupy the positions of every other tzaddik, for in the future world every Jew will be able to identify and incorporate all paths. In this world, however, perfection is reached when each group follows its unique path, while acknowledging and respecting all the other paths.
That does not imply that all paths are valid. Sometimes it is necessary to give tochachah - rebuke or reproof - to criticize those who are not in the circle at all. True peace must include rebuke and criticism, for this is necessary in order to achieve perfection. Any peace that does not include tochachah is no peace, say Chazal (Bereishis Rabbah 54:3). But the tochachah must be the result of love and concern for the one rebuked. It must be done in a way that reflects this motivation. Criticism must be directed to the negative behavior of individuals or groups, and not to the person or to the group itself.
The Gemara relates that one who sees a kettle, or river, or bird in a dream should expect to find shalom. The three factors that prevent the achievement of perfection are jealousy, lust and haughtiness. All three drive wedges between people and destroy harmonious cooperation and co-existence. The pot unites the power of fire and water to cook food for our sustenance. Yet the pot itself gains nothing and is burnt and blackened. The lustful individual, by contrast, seeks only his own gratification and bases his conduct on one consideration: “What’s in it for me?” The pot negates this attitude.
Contemplation of the river is the antidote for jealously. The river is so beautiful and useful when it says within its boundaries, and yet so destructive when it overflows those boundaries. Shalom requires each person to recognize his place in the world and the unique role he has to play, while at the same time recognizing the contributions and worth of his fellow man. To combat haughtiness, one must learn from the bird. The bird is flexible and light, ever ready to make way for others and fly away.
Rashi comments on the opening words of the sedrah, “Korach took -- He took himself off to one side.” Korach separated himself. He did not see himself as a part of the klal, but rather as a detached, isolated individual. His sense of separation caused his jealousy of Elizaphon ben Uziel, when the latter was appointed as the family head, and led to his lust for the glory of the kehunah gedolah. His attitude was the very antithesis of shalom, which depends of each Jew fulfilling his unique role without jealousy or selfish motivations.
Reb Zusya was asked if he would accept the opportunity to switch places with Avraham Avinu. He replied, “What would HaKodosh Baruch Hu gain? There would still be one Avraham Avinu and one Reb Zusya.” Each individual has to aspire to achieve the maximum he can in his individual role and not to duplicate the role entrusted to another. There can be only on Kohen Gadol. Had Korach taken the attitude of Reb Zusya it would have made no difference to him whether it was Aaron or himself, as long as the duties of the office were performed in accord with G-d’s will.
Chazal called Korach an apikorus for denying the validity of the Oral Law. That denial was a direct consequences of his stirring up contention. Torah is based on shalom and harmony among the Jewish people. A commitment to the totality of Torah is impossible on an isolated, individual level. No individual can fulfill 613 mitzvos; there are mitzvos that only a Kohen can perform and others that require a Yisrael. There are mitzvos that apply only to men and other mitzvos that apply only to women. Torah in its totality requires the united community of Klal Yisrael. Only as one individual with one heart can we accept the Torah and fulfill it.
Argument for the sake of Heaven, the collective quest for truth, is the essence of the Oral Torah. But one whose contentiousness is not for the sake of Heaven negates the foundation upon which the Oral Torah stands. Thus Korach was labeled an apikorus (heretic).
Korach’s punishment perfectly reflected his sin. He who sees his fellow men only as objects of jealously or lust or as means of obtaining honor, will in the end swallow others alive to advance his own goals. Korach was such a person, and the earth swallowed him alive -- middah keneged middah (measure for measure).
The very capacity of the earth to serve as a firm base for man depends on the unification of the individual grains of sand into terra firma. One who denies the necessity of unity, who fails to see that the fulfillment of G-d’s will is a collective enterprise, causes those grains to break apart, and finds himself cast down alive into the netherworld.
Just as strife and machlokes are generated by individuals, peace and harmony must begin with an individual effort. The story is told of a man whose five-year-old son was constantly interrupting him as he read the newspaper. Finally, in desperation, he tore off a page of a magazine with a map of the world and ripped it into small pieces, telling his son not to return until he had reconstructed the map. He assumed he had gained for himself several hours respite. Fifteen minutes later, however, the child return and gleefully announced that he’d finished the task. His father was dumbfounded. “How could you put the map together so quickly and accurately?” he asked. “Dad,” the little boy replied, “it was simple. On the other side of the map was a picture of a person. I simply put the person together, and the world fell into place.” It is the perfection and harmony within the individual itself that ultimately leads to the more global shalom.
May we learn from the tragedy of Korach to flee from all strife that is not for the sake of Heaven and thereby help to bring the ultimate shalom, the entire world united in the service of Hashem.
Chazal tell us that it was Korach’s wife who instigated his rebellions against Moshe, and it was the wife of On ben Peles who saved his life by preventing him from becoming involved in that rebellion (Sanhedrin 109b). They conclude, quoting the verse, “The wisdom of women can establish her home, and the foolish woman destroys it with her own hands” (Mishlei 14:1).
Elsewhere, Chazal relate the story of a righteous couple who divorced. The righteous woman married a wicked man, and the righteous man subsequently married a wicked woman. In the end, the righteous woman transformed her wicked husband into a tzaddik and the wicked wife transformed the tzaddik into an evil man. The Midrash concludes that all depends on the woman (Bereishis Rabbah 17:7).
In a similar vein, Chazal explain the verse, “Thus shall you say to Beis Yaakov and tell Beni Yisrael” (Exodus 19:3), to mean that Moshe was first to offer the Torah to the women and only afterwards to the men. The Maharshah adds that Moshe was to approach only the women, and they in turn were to approach their male relatives and convince them to accept the Torah.
What is the source of this enormous power of women to influence Klal Yisrael?
The answer to that depends on a proper understanding of the different intellectual attributes of men and women. On the one hand, the Gemara (Niddah 45b) says, “Greater understanding (binah) was given to a woman than to a man.” It is for this reason that women are ready to accept the responsibility for mitzvos at twelve years of age, a year earlier that their male counterparts. On the other hand, Chazal say, “Nashem daaytan kaloos alahem” (Shabbos 33b), which is loosely and wrongly translated, “A woman’s intellect is lightweight.”
What are the attributes of binah and da’as mentioned by Chazal? Binah is a function of the heart, an emotional sensitivity to information, and an ability to put that information to concrete, practical use. Da’as, on the other hand, is a function of pure intellect, the crystallization of the abstract truth.
Both of these functions are crucial for one to establish and lead a Torah life. One must both be able to ascertain the truth in a totally objective manner and apply that truth with a sensitivity. The male and female aspects of mankind were originally one, and the total human they formed contained both these intellectual attributes (see Berachos 61a). With the separation of male and female, each was given one aspect -- da’as for the male and binah for the female -- in greater intensity. As partners in marriage, both attributes find their original expression.
A greater measure of binah was given to women. They have a greater propensity for emotional sensitivity -- i.e., greater in proportion to their capacity for da’as -- than does man. No matter how weighty an individual woman’s da’as may be, her binah is weightier. Hence women’s da’as is light aleihen -- “with respect to themselves.” It is not intrinsically light, only relative to their own capacity for binah.
The role of the male in Klal Yisrael is to provide the raw materials, both in the spiritual realm and the physical realm. In the physical realm, the ma earns the income and provides the woman with the raw materials from which she feeds and clothes her family. So, too, in the spiritual realm, the man learns Torah, deriving the truths of halachah and hashkafah. He transmits these abstract truths to his wife who applies them to build the Jewish home. Hence, the woman is a Bonah -- a builder by virtue of her Binah.
The Gemara (Yoma 66b) tells the story of a woman who once entered the beis medrash and asked a question concerning the different death penalties appropriate for the sin of worshipping the Golden Calf. She was told to go home and return to her weaving, for a woman’s wisdom is limited to weaving. After she departed, the Sages proceed to discuss her question in great depth.
The key to the Sages’ response to her question lies in the fact that the question was of a totally theoretical nature and had no practical bearing. Such questions and analysis a’s wisdom, by contrast, is like weaving -- in which a thread that is basically non-functional is transformed into a functional garment. Women take the abstract ideals and apply them to concrete situations.
The Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 28) offers three rea The Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 28) offers three reasons why the Torah was in fact first offered to the women: 1) women are more exuberant and enthusiastic in their fulfillment of mitzvos; 2) women lead their husbands and children to Torah; and 3) Hashem gave Adam the first command and Chavah ruined everything. This time Hashem wanted to avoid a recurrence by addressing the women first.
It is precisely the woman’s enthusiasm and exuberance that reflects her extra capacity for emotional sensitivity in her relationship with Torah. Therefore she holds the key to guiding her husband and children’s more abstract intellectual knowledge, whether for the good or for the bad, as in Chavah’s case.
Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman, Hy”d, writes that it is the wisdom of the hear, binah, and not objective wisdom, that in the final analysis determines whether a person in fact follows the right path or not. Hence the Torah commands us not to follow false ideologies by exhorting us not to stray after our hearts, rather than exhorting us not to stray from our minds. For the mind can easily find the objective truth. It is the heart that subjectively colors and distorts what the mind produces. That is why women, with their greater emotional acuity, have so frequently played the decisive role in our history.
Throughout our history up until our own day, it has been the Jewish women who intuitively knew how to proceed along the right path, sometimes succeeding in influencing the men and sometimes not. It was in the merit of the righteous women in Egypt that we were redeemed. Later the women did not participate of the Sin of the Golden Calf, nor succumb to the Sin of the Spies.
The late Gerrer Rebbe once told Rabbi Yechezkel Sarna that the greatest Torah personality in the previous generation was not the Chafetz Chaim, nor Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzenski, nor the previous Gerrer Rebbe, but Sarah Schenirer, the founder of Beis Yaakov, for without her the efforts of all of these gedolim would have been for naught.
Similarly, when asked by a city with limited resources if they should first build a Beis Yaakov or a yeshiva for boys, the Chazon Ish replied to build the Beis Yaakov. Without women dedicated to Torah, he said, there would be no use for yeshivos.
May the women of our generation use their unique power to lead the generation by the heart towards greeting Mashiach soon in our days.
Reprinted with permission from Artscroll Mesorah Publications, ltd.
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