Parshas Korach has a lot of drama. Needless to say, after last week’s parsha and the Jews being condemned to wander the desert for 40 years, you could see why they might call for new leadership. But when Korach and a band 250 elders call for the overthrowing of Moses, it doesn’t end well… many of them get swallowed alive by a gigantic sink hole and the rest are consumed by fire from heaven.
You’d think that would be the end of it. Proof positive that Moses and Aaron are rightfully appointed to their positions by God. But how does Bnei Yisroel respond? They accuse Moses and Aaron of murder! So God sends a plague and another bunch of Jews die. Moses and Aaron stop the plague but the Jews are still not convinced.
Finally God has Moses perform an odd ritual. He instructs him to take one staff from each tribe and along with a staff of Aaron. The leader of each tribe is to write his name on the staff and then they’ll leave all the staffs in the holy Tent of Meeting over night. By morning, one of the staffs will blossom like a flower and that’s how they’ll know who the proper leader of the Jewish people should be. Of course, Aaron’s staff blossoms. Everyone agrees, takes back their staff and goes home happy.
A Flower from a Stick Does the Trick?
What’s going on here? If being swallowed up by the earth isn’t going to convince you and then subsequently an inferno from God and a plague isn’t going to convince you, why would the some flowers from a stick be the proof of Moses and Aaron’s leadership credentials?
What’s really going on here is an insight into the nature of arguments. Last year, I wrote about how Korach’s arguments were selfishly motivated. But what about when we do care about the a topic at hand? And the person we’re arguing with we really do feel has incorrect information?
Rabbi Noach Weinberg has a brilliant insight; when we are in the midst of a disagreement, you can bring facts and figures all day but that’s not what gets through to people. And we know this from the world we live in. For every hot button political topic, we’ve got a plethora of facts and information that can be interpreted or distorted in any number of ways. You can give a me study and I can find criticism that undermines how the study was conducted or who funded the study or I can disagree with the conclusion presented by the evidence. Throwing facts at me and telling me I’m wrong is only going to force me to double down on my position and put me on the defensive.
But if my goal is to actually get to the bottom of the truth and whether I’m right or wrong is irrelevant, then I’ve got something. Because now I can look at the facts and process them from an objective perspective. I can listen to the other person without emotionally caused skepticism. Once they feel listened to and they understand I’m not in this for me but for finding the truth, then I can invite that person to help me. Because if we can get to the truth together, that’s unity.
When Moses asks for the staffs of the tribes, he’s not just asking for a stick. The staff is a representation of the tribe’s investment in the process of this discovery. And when the ritual is over the Torah says “Moses then brought out all the staffs from before God to all Bnei Yisroel, and each man, saw and retrieved his staff.” (Bamidbar 17:24) Why does the Torah specifically say, “saw and retrieved?” Because each member who partook was satisfied with the result and happy to have been apart of the process.
So when we go into these heated debates with friend and relatives (who hopefully will remain friends after the debate), it is essential to keep a sense of civility and the awareness that you might be wrong. Then from there, invite the other person to discover the truth with you, no matter how sure you think you are. That’s not only discovering truth but also building a relationship.