By Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis
The father of Rav Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of the Holy Land, was Rabbi Shlomo Zalman HaCohen Kook.
On one occasion he visited a shtetl, a community in Lithuania. After he arrived there, just before Shabbat, it became absolutely obvious to him that this community was ridden with machloket. A deep dispute divided the people into two camps. Many came up to Rav Kook and pleaded with him: ‘Please, use your drasha in shul tomorrow morning in order to resolve the dispute and bring peace back to our ranks’.
It so happened that that week, the parasha of Korach was being read. Rav Kook stood up and this is what he said: ‘After the Korach rebellion, Aharon the Cohen was commanded to place his rod in the tent of meeting. Miraculously, his rod produced almonds. Rav Kook asked ‘Why the almonds?’
He explained that in the first chapter of the Mishnah, Masechet Maasrot, reference is made to almonds and there the Mishnah says, sometimes you can have an almond which starts out being bitter and then becomes sweet and sometimes you can have an almond which starts out being sweet and then it becomes bitter. Rav Kook explained that machloket is like the almond which starts out being sweet and then it becomes bitter.
It is sweet unfortunately for some people because they enjoy it. They love seeing this side versus that side, who is saying what about whom. And they themselves might take sides and wonder who is going to be victorious and who is going to lose out, but it always ends up being bitter. It reminds us of what is written in the Torah about Yakov on the eve of his epic meeting with his twin brother Esav. The Torah says vayira Yakov m’od vayetzer lo – Yakov was afraid and he was sorely concerned. Says Rashi, he was afraid lest he be killed, he was sorely concerned lest he kill.
Yakov realised that when it comes to conflict, there are no winners. And so it is true with regard to machloket. Said Rav Kook however, shalom – peace in a community, is like the almond, which starts out being bitter but then becomes sweet. It is bitter because it is so difficult to achieve peace and it often involves compromise; one needs to uproot oneself from one’s deep-rooted, heartfelt positions in order to make an advance for the sake of peace.
But once we achieve shalom, it is sweet for everyone concerned. It is said, that the kiddush was not yet over after that Shabbat morning service and peace had been restored to that community.
The Torah gives us a mitzvah v’lo tihiyeh k’Korach v’hadato – one should not be like Korach and his assembly. Apart from the machlochet l’shem shemayim, when there is a dispute for the sake of heaven, dispute is something we should avoid. Such controversies bring so much bitterness in our midst there are clearly no winners.
Let us rather adopt the pathway towards peace and that way we will guarantee a sweet and productive life for ourselves and our communities.
Originally appears on Chief Rabbi Mirvis’ website