Thursday, June 10, 2021

A Lesson for Our Times


Even though I love my children passionately I don’t always agree with them. My husband is my best friend, and yet, we don’t always see eye-to-eye. There are other friends and relatives who have different political, religious, and social views than mine. Does that mean I need to cut off contact with them?

There’s a saying in Chapters of the Fathers that addresses this question. In chapter 5, verse 20, it states: 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 company.

Who exactly are Hillel and Shammai? Two rabbis who lived in the first century BCE. Although they often disagreed, they maintained a warm relationship and were instrumental in formulating Jewish law as we know it today, a constructive outcome. And who is Korach? We learn about him in this week’s Torah portion. He’s the man who instigated a rebellion against Moshe while the Jewish people were in the desert after leaving Egypt. He ended up being buried alive and his followers also perished, not a constructive outcome.

How can we know whether our disputes are like those of Hillel and Shammai or those of Korach? Our rabbis teach that although Korach was motivated by jealousy and envy, he masked his base instincts with ideological rhetoric. That’s something that we all know how to do.

So how do we know if our motivations are pure or not? There is the litmus test of Hillel and Shammai.  Can I be civil, kind, and even loving to someone I have an ideological disagreement with? If yes, then most likely that dispute will have a productive outcome. And if I can only be hateful, well, the chances of the dispute being fruitful are very, very slim.

It’s time to learn the lesson of Korach. It’s time to be honest with ourselves and examine our motivations before we argue. It’s time to build and not destroy. It’s time to bring true Redemption to the world. It’s in our hands.

My novel, Growing With My Cousin is available at Jewish bookstores and on line at or 




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