If you unscramble the Hebrew letters for the word fight, you see Machlokes can be recombined to spell Lakach Mavas which means taking death. Same letters, different order. Korach created Machlokes, which in turn ensured “Lakach Mavas” he took for himself a big dose of death.
If you look at the core word in Machlokes you see the word Chelek, portion. My portion, your portion, my side, your side, my ego and yours. You divvy up the world, you create divisions between folks, you break up the beautiful symmetry and harmony that ought to have been.
Hey, one minute, you might say, didn’t Korach argue there should be no divisions among the Jews. Let’s understand Korach’s arguments and then analyze the concept of Machlokes-fights.
We are taught Korach argued every Jew is equally holy (he was the first communist) and that there should be no leaders. Since all were holy, there is no need for any one person to be “holier than thou” and, thence, he argued, there should be no such a concept as Aharon, the High Priest. Boy did Korach mess up. Judaism preaches unity, not uniformity. We are not sardines in a can. Each of us has a unique mission to play in this world.
The opposite of Machlokes is Shalom, from the roots of Shalaym (whole) or Shalaym (pay). We are told by G-d there is no better vessel for blessings, to hold the good things and all the payments and rewards, other than Shalom/peace. You want the bounty of G-d to stay in your life, you must have peace. In fact, within this realm of honoring “wholeness”, it is a preference to make the blessings on food on whole objects, rather than cut ones. Hence, if you have a roll, make the blessing on the whole roll and then cut it. Wholeness, it seems, is very praiseworthy. It is the opposite of “chalakim” of chopped up parts.
Yeah, I know, we’ve analyzed many words, but haven’t gotten to an understanding of concepts of peace and disunity.
When a person is “shalaym” [whole], it means a person embraces his/her own relationship with G-d and gets to work on his/her assigned role. When we are “whole” with our portion in life, we get “paid” for our service of G-d. This brings Shalom, peace to the person and to those around. A person who is tortured, looking out at other people’s portions in life, such a person feels un-whole. Such a person feels like he/she got only a “portion” of what he/she deserved, and is always chasing after something more, something else, instead of focusing on life’s mission.
Korach was rich. That wasn’t enough for him. He had Divine Revelation. That wasn’t enough for him. He had illustrious children. That wasn’t enough for him. He had a role in the Tabernacle. Nope, still not enough. For he was looking at what he might not have – he was thinking he only had “partial”, only a “chelek” of what he ought to be getting.
What is the difference between life and death? In life, we can choose to do our mission, we can put our life to use, we can actually do G-d’s will. In death, we no longer can accomplish. It is over. When a person is focusing on what everyone else has, such person is not focused on his own tasks and usually doesn’t end up accomplishing or working on his mission. He is a walking dead person.
Shalom is not communism. It is not the argument of Korach, of “let us all be the same.” Shalom is concentrating on our little slice of life, on our own unique mission of G-d, of doing G-d’s will.
Now we can understand how there is a concept of Machlokes which is not harmful. We are told that a “machlokes l’shaym shamayim” is not the killing variety Korach indulged in. The classic example given is the arguments and disagreements between Hillel and Shammai. What those two great sages were doing in their discord was trying to hammer out how G-d wants us to serve him. Neither wanted the other’s blessings. Neither wanted to diminish the other or aggrandize themselves. Therefore, their Machlokes, if you unscramble the letters, can also be read “Chalak or Lakach Tohm. The word Tohm is innocence/purity – even wholeness.
Fighting for G-d is about our mission in life. Fighting for our pride is about ignoring our mission in life. Hence, Korach got death for his fight — while Hillel and Shammai got immortality for their fight, as their arguments will be carried throughout time in the sacred Talmud.