This week’s essay is dedicated in memory of Miriam Amselem
Is it Worth the Fight?
This week’s Torah reading is named after a man who led a rebellion against Moshe and his brother, Aaron. Korach was unhappy that he was passed over for a prominent position that he felt rightfully belonged to him. He expressed his dissatisfaction by challenging Moshe’s authority and accusing Moshe of nepotism. He didn’t like the fact that Moshe, who had the highest position among the Israelites, had his brother in the second most prestigious position of High Priest.
The fact of the matter is that positions of authority were directives from God and not Moshe’s doing. But that didn’t matter to Korach. After some very tense back-and-forth and confrontation between the parties, the issue was Divinely resolved when the earth swallowed up Korach and his buddies. Well that settles matters, doesn’t it?
Korach was not the only one who wasn’t thrilled with Moshe’s leadership, and challenged him publically about it. Datan and Aviram (combined and played by Edward G. Robinson in the classic 50’s movie, The Ten Commandments) played a similar role in being regular thorns in Moshe’s side.
Which just goes to show you that no matter how great a leader may be, he or she will always have detractors and critics. We need to take some comfort in that. If even the greatest leader, Moshe couldn’t make everyone happy and had people challenging him and making his life miserable, then we should not feel so bad when the same thing happens to us. You’re just not going to make everybody happy. But that’s ok because you are in good company since even the great Moshe wasn’t able to either.
Yup, we all have our Korach or Datan types in our lives. These are the people who seem to live for confrontation and it animates much of their personality. Every little thing seems to be an issue and a reason for altercation. These type can seldom hold themselves back from making their feelings known to everyone around them by engaging in some sort of argument or fight. To make matters worse, their expressions of dismay are not always verbal but will often take on a more subtle and insidious form such as a sigh, a look, rolled eyes or a facial expression. Their displeasure always comes from the same place: They are not happy about something (and generally not happy about anything, themselves included, which is really the source) and it is imperative that everyone within earshot be made aware of their displeasure.
Folks like this are so consumed by their own self-importance that they will do anything and everything to change circumstances to fit into their world-view. But that’s not usually how it goes, so they will then let it be known that they are very disappointed and unhappy when all do not bend to their kvetch.
So how are we supposed to deal with these miserable type that somehow creep into our lives? Try to change them? Should we engage and confront them?
A great rabbi, the Chofetz Chaim used to say, “Be careful to avoid unnecessary debates, for this can easily lead to anger” and Rabbi Pliskin, commenting on this, writes in his work, Gateway to Happiness, “Before getting into an argument, ask yourself: ‘Is it really worthwhile to argue over this matter?'”
This is the key: Is it worth the confrontation? A person has to learn to pick their battles and have the maturity and self control to just let things slide. Before entering into an argument with such type, you have to stop and think what it might accomplish.
This is why Judaism stresses that Peace trumps Truth and that we must often set aside even the Truth for the greater good. A person might indeed be 100% correct – but they should still keep their mouth shut anyway. It’s not worth the ill feelings, anxiety, high blood pressure and sleepless nights that will result from the confrontation. And it probably won’t make a difference anyway.
Often a person will defend their zeal by claiming that, “It’s the principle of the matter!” But even that needs to be honestly assessed. The true test to this assertion is by asking yourself, “If this issue that you are all hot and bothered by were to happen to another, would you be as passionate about it as you are now?” If the answer is no, then it’s clear that it’s not “the principle of the matter” but largely ego driven. Let it go.
This is not to say that one shouldn’t speak up when a meaningful injustice is being perpetrated or if there is a challenge to authority that could undermine society taking place, as Moshe found himself in the midst of. But let’s face it, most of us are not Moshes and our Korachs are just little people who are a pain in our behinds. For most of us in our everyday lives, these conflicts are generally petty issues that we take personal umbrage in and are better off just ignoring. It takes two to tango to have a full-blown confrontation. If you walk away, the fight becomes like one hand clapping – it doesn’t make much noise.
So before going to war and entering into any quarrel, ask yourself if it is indeed worth it in the larger scheme of things. You will probably find out that most of the time it’s not. And that is a good thing – for you and for everyone around you. But mostly for you.
Close enough to start a war
All that I have
Is on the floor
God only knows what we’re fighting for
All that I say
You always say more
I can’t keep up with your turning tables