Parashat Korah- Setting Up a “Shalom Fund”
The story told in Parashat Korah highlights the destructive nature of Mahaloket, fighting. Korah and his followers instigated a fight against Moshe and Aharon, which ultimately resulted in their death and even the death of their families, showing us how harmful fighting and dissent can be.
Moshe Rabbenu’s conduct in response to this assault on his authority teaches us how we should respond to Mahaloket, to fights and arguments that arise. The Torah relates that Moshe humbly invited two of the leading instigators – Datan and Abiram – to his tent for the purpose of making peace. Although he was undoubtedly right and they were undoubtedly wrong, Moshe extended his hand in peace in an attempt to bring the Mahaloket to an end. We must understand that Datan and Abiram were not exactly upstanding citizens who had a simple, honest disagreement with Moshe. The Sages teach us that they had repeatedly violated Moshe’s instructions and undermined his authority, even before Korah’s revolt. These were seasoned troublemakers, who audaciously assailed Moshe and opposed his leadership. And even after Datan and Abiram rebuffed Moshe, he patiently went to their tent. He actively worked toward ending the Mahaloket, even though he was, without question, the innocent party.
Our attitude to Mahaloket must not be one of "I’m right and he’s wrong." The question of right and wrong is not the critical issue. In a Mahaloket, everyone loses. Moshe understood this, and he therefore humbled himself and set out to end the whole affair. Many people in Moshe’s position – when it is blatantly obvious that he is right and the other party is wrong – would say, "Why should I be the one to make peace? He’s the guilty one!" But Moshe realized that his being right was not the important factor, that the fight needed to end for everyone’s sake. He therefore tried to initiate a peaceful resolution. He was right, but he nevertheless assumed the responsibility to end the argument.
The Hafetz Haim (Rav Yisrael Meir Kagan of Radin, 1839-1933) noted that the Misva of Shalom, peaceful relations among Jews, like other Misvot, costs money. Leading a Torah lifestyle entails many expenses – kosher meat, making Pesah, buying an Etrog, not to mention religious education for our children. We all readily understand and accept these expenses as a natural part of being observant Jews. The Hafetz Haim said that we must also be willing to spend money for the Misva of Shalom. And he advised allocating a sum of money each year for a "Shalom Fund," setting aside an amount of money that we will be willing to pay for the sake of maintaining peaceful relations with other people.
A fascinating story is told of two neighbors that demonstrates how this "Shalom Fund" works. A resident of an apartment building noticed that every morning, when he brought in his newspaper, it had already been gone through. He could tell that somebody read the copy of The New York Times delivered to his doorstep before he did. One morning he looked to see who it was, and he was shocked to discover that his neighbor took his newspaper. He confronted the neighbor, and the neighbor explained that he, the subscriber, never brings in the paper before 7am. So, each morning at 6am, right when the paper is delivered, the neighbor takes the paper, reads it, and then folds it back up and returns it to the subscriber’s doorstep.
The man was furious. "How could you take my paper!" he exclaimed. "I paid for it, and I never gave you permission to read it!"
The neighbor, however, insisted that he is entitled to read the paper and return it fully intact before the man brings it into his apartment.
Finally, the man brought his neighbor to the Rabbi to mediate. The Rabbi heard the argument and then called the man to the side.
"What I think you should do is buy your neighbor a subscription to The New York Times."
The man couldn’t believe his ears. "I should buy him a subscription? Why?"
"A subscription costs about $100 a year. This is probably what you pay for Shemura Masa every year before Pesah, or what you pay for an average Shabbat. It’s not a large sum, and it will solve the problem."
The man was still shocked, but he heeded the Rabbi’s advice. He later confessed that this was among the best decisions he ever made. The cost was, in the long run, negligible, and it ensured friendly relations with his neighbor. If he hadn’t done this, the fight would have endured forever, and for the rest of his life he and his neighbor would be angry with one another.
Even if we are right, there is no shame in giving in. And even if its costs us money, it is worth the price.
We buy insurance to protect ourselves in case something happens to our car or our home. Establishing a "Shalom Fund" is probably the most important insurance we can purchase. In his commentary to this week’s Parasha (16:27), Rashi writes that the consequences of Mahaloket are so devastating that they result in the death of even infants. I have personally seen families torn asunder by fights that neither party was willing to end. The effects of fights among friends, neighbors, relatives and business partners are, almost without exception, devastating. We should be prepared to pay money – even if we are right – to avoid the catastrophic consequences of Mahaloket. It is worth the price – and a lot more.