“And Korach took …”
Korach indeed had a real grievance, to the point that 250 leaders of the Sanhedrin joined him in his claim. Korach managed to convince them of his position, citing proofs and arguments. He was brilliant, and he genuinely believed that he was right. But ultimately he lost all that he had. (Rav Meir Robman, Zichron Meir)
“Don’t you have anything to say?” asked the woman angrily. “Don’t you agree with me?”
“Yes, I agree,” I finally conceded, wishing that my turn would come to speak with the teacher and I could leave this PTA meeting already. The waiting area in the hallway seemed to be a kaffeeklatsch of complaints. This was the third mother complaining about the same topic. “But it’s normal for this age,” I ventured to suggest.
“It’s only normal because no one is stopping it!” the woman retorted, her voice rising indignantly. “It’s one group of girls who’ve formed an exclusive clique, and the rest of the class feels like second-class citizens. Yet no one is doing anything about it! You know why? Because one of those princesses’ mothers is a teacher in the school, and …”
Women around me were murmuring agreement. I wished that I could disappear. Maybe these women are right. Maybe there is justice to what they’re saying. So why am I quiet?
Rav Yisrael Salanter once commented to someone in an argument: “If you’re right, continue being right.” It’s natural for a person who is believes he is right to demand justice. However, such demands continue until ultimately, he is no longer in the right. He says things he shouldn’t say, makes accusations, etc. Yet, he justifies all this as being “lishmah.” (ibid.)
I have a relative who, unfortunately, has gone off the derech. Every so often, she tries to provoke me with questions that challenge Yiddishkeit. Why does Hashem care how we dress? Why can’t she sing in front of men? And other similar questions that she knows the answers to.
I get annoyed. Her questions are meant only to antagonize. My replies are sharp and cutting, designed to prove my point. She retorts with empty, media-driven clichés. I grow hot, angry, and answer her back …
The debate draws to an end, but the air is awash with hard feelings. And as the argument dies down, so do my feelings of self-righteousness. Suddenly, I realize that in spite of being right, I’ve erred. Big time.
Even if a person is right, he should work on his middos and give in whenever he can. (ibid.)
Am I always required to be silent? If the cashier ignores me and starts serving the person behind me, do I have to stand by mutely? Can’t I ever express a fair and justified grievance?
There is a way to express injustice. But there is only one way. With a pleasant tone and calm words. Explain gently, but don’t attack. Requests are welcome, but war is not.
And suppose my soft voice goes unheard in the tempest?
Then it’s time to keep quiet. I’ve said my piece; justice is no longer up to me. I’ll have to leave it to Hashem.
This is how Aharon HaKohein acted. Aharon loved peace. And throughout this parshah with Korach, his name is not mentioned, as he did not interfere in the dispute. Korach was complaining about Aharon as well. Korach was upset that Aharon was the Kohein Gadol. Yet in spite of this, he was silent.
When is his name finally mentioned in relation to Korach? Only when Moshe commanded him to take his firepan and run to stop the plague that was sent as punishment. Only to keep the peace. (ibid.)
The earth has never been silent since; the mouth that opened wide to swallow Korach and his followers has not closed. Throughout each and every generation, it continues to swallow new arguments and disputes, those who debate and those who demand justice.
To remain silent does not mean you have nothing to respond. Rather, it shows that silence is the best response.
Don’t be right. Be smart.