Rabbi Daniel Myers
I thank Rabbi Adam Berner for many ideas and references contained in this essay.
Chazal (Avoth 5:20) write that Korach’s dispute with Moshe typifies the Machloket Shelo L’shaim L’shaim, a dispute that is clearly not for Heaven’s sake. This is to be contrasted with the Machlokot between Hillel and Shamai, which were L’shaim Shamaim. We would like to analyze five different levels of dispute, ranging from the base Machloket of Korach V’chol Adato to the noble one of Hillel and Shamai:
1. The statement in Parshat Korach (Bamidbar 16:12) “Lo Naaleh,” (we will not have any dialogue with you) which Datan and Aviram made to Moshe, after the latter requested a meeting with them, typifies the Machloket Shelo L’shaim Shamaim, where the parties (or party) simply do not want to discuss or debate the issue. The position is already a foregone conclusion, the lines have been drawn, and the fight has begun. This conflict usually results in Sinah, hatred, and has plagued Klal Yisrael ever since the times of the Chorban. (Yoma 9b)
2. We term the second level of conflict ‘unmanageable conflict.’ Here, the two disputants cannot establish a functional, working relationship, and decide to part ways in a friendly, courteous manner. This is typified by the dispute between Avraham and Lot, where the two had a wide gap in their ideologies and deeds. Avraham suggested that the two parties separate from each other, but offered Lot his help if it would ever be needed. (Braishit 13:9) Subsequently, he saved Lot’s life when the latter was taken hostage. (Braishit 14:16) He still related to Lot, but did not want to maintain a daily, constant relationship with him. If a divorce in a relationship must occur, ideally it should be in this manner.
3. We identify the next level of Machloket as ‘conflict management.’ Here the two sides are attempting to discuss the issues and arrive at some kind of mutual understanding, compromise or resolution, but are simply incapable of achieving their goals. They must settle-at least temporarily-for conflict management, where they have not resolved their issues but agree to have a functional, manageable relationship for the time being. This may apply to a couple, to a parent and child, etc. when they, unfortunately, cannot see eye-to-eye on certain important issues but they agree to continue the relationship in a cordial and respectful manner.
4. The fourth level is known as conflict resolution. Here, the two parties involved work through their issues until they resolve their issue, either through Hakarat Hachait, (understanding that a mistake was made), clarification of a misunderstanding or miscommunication, etc. Often, the Mitzvah of Hochaiach Tochiach Et Amitecha (Vayikra 19:17), rebuking a fellow Jew, is essential for the resolution. This approach is evident in the Machloket between Avraham and Avimelech when Avimelech unintentionally took Sarah as a wife. Avimelech was quite critical of Avraham for allowing this to happen until the latter pointed out his critic’s flaws. At that point, Avimelech backed off, and accepted blame for the decrepit society that he was responsible for. (Braishit 20:9-11) They then continued their warm and friendly relationship. (Ibid. 20:14-17)
5. We will call the final level of Machloket ‘conflict-growth,’ where the two parties actually seek out conflict in order to refine their positions and insights. This is characterized by the Gemara in Baba Meziah (84a). The Gemara states the following:
“Rav Shimon the son of Lakish passed away, and Rav Yochanan grieved after him considerably. The Rabbis said ‘Who shall go to bring comfort to his mind?’ They answered that Rav Elazar Ben Pedat should go, for he is a brilliant scholar.’ Rav Pedat went and sat before Rav Yochanan. To every statement of Rav Yochanan, Rav Pedat would respond that there is a Braita supporting his position. Rav Yochanan eventually said to him: “You are supposed to be like Raish Lakish; when I would make a statement to him, he would raise twenty four objections, to which I would give twenty four answers, and as a result of the debate we would have a deeper understanding of the Sugya, the topic under discussion. However, you constantly say ‘we learned a Braita that supports you.’ Of what use is this? Do I not already know that I have said well?!” Rav Yochanan would go about, tear his clothes, cry and say ‘Where are you, son of Lakish’ and he would scream…and then he passed away.”
This may be the explanation of the term, Aizer K’negdo (2:18), referring to a wife as a helper who is against her husband, a most paradoxical term at first glance! (See Rashi ibid.) It is possible to say that this is not meant in a hostile manner; rather, it refers to natural differences that a couple-whose lives are thoroughly intertwined-will have, in many areas of life, which, when dealt with properly, will hopefully lead to growth, maturity and heightened spirituality.
A relationship, whether familial, social or economic, can partake of any of these levels. Even if one senses that he is ‘stuck’ at one of the first levels, he should never have Yaiush, assuming that the relationship is doomed, Chas V’shalom. With hard work and help from Hashem, an individual can gradually transform the nature of the relationship from “Lo Naaleh” Sinah, hatred, to one of growth, mutual respect and love.