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Dear Mogen David Family,

The Mishnah in Masechet Pirkei Avot distinguishes between a machloket shehi l'shem shamayim and machloket she-lo l'shem shamayim, between a debate that is predicated on a greater understanding of Ratzon HaShem [G-d's will], and one that is for ulterior motives. The former produces great results and is encouraged by the Chachamim; the latter will only yield negative consequences and is condemned by the Chachamim. 

As we are aware, the primary example of a machloket l'shem shamayim is Hillel and Shamai. These two great minds argued over hundreds of halachot, and their respective Batei Midrash continued the debate for generations. The Gemara famously tells us that even though they were engaged in a Milchamta shel Torah, they still married into one another's family. Their debate in Torah was characterized by fiery opinions, yet also carried a mutual respect and admiration.

The example the Mishnah offers for a machlochet she-lo l'shem shamayim stems from our Parasha. The Mishnah writes: "V'Ezo Hi Machloket She-lo L'shem Shamayim? Korach V'chol Adato." And what is [the primary] example of a debate that was not for the sake of Heaven? Korach and his cohorts. 

There is a clear literary issue. The Mishnah is asymmetrical! The example of a proper debate, Hillel and Shamai, contains two opposing sides. But the example given of an improper debate mentions only one side of the machloket--Korach and his companions. It should have said 'Korach and Moshe/Aharon.' The message is clear. Korach had no adversary except himself. He wasn't arguing against Moshe and Aharon; he was struggling with his own Kina'a and Ga'ava, jealousy and arrogance. Because Korach could not control these middot raot, he was swallowed up by the earth, which is symbolic of how a terrible midda eats away at our simcha and menucha. 

Ultimately, no good will emerge from a machloket she-lo l'shem shamayim because our ulterior motives are determined by middot raot such as kina'a, ga'ava, and ka'as. We should defend our views and hold strong opinion--but they must be l'shem shamayim.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yehuda Moses Rav HaKehillah/Senior Rabbi

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