If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that machlokes is rampant.

After Korach “went down” in his altercation with Moshe and Aharon, Hashem declared that this episode would be an everlasting lesson that “there will not be [another incident] like Korach and his crowd” (Bamidbar 17:5). 

The meaning of this statement is ambiguous and the Rishonim debate whether it should be understood as a promise or a directive. One interpretation is that Hashem was providing assurance that there would never again be a challenge like the one spearheaded by Korach (see Rambam, Sefer HaMitzvos Shoresh 8). Alternatively, Hashem may have been issuing a formal command that it is forbidden to follow the ways of Korach and instigate or fuel discord (Ramban ad loc.). Put simply, these words can be understood as either “it will not happen ever again” or “it better not happen ever again.” 

In the spirit of relieving disagreement and promoting unity, these differing interpretations can be synthesized based on a sharp comment of Rav Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin zt”l (d. 1900). The squabbles that we experience daily are very different from the one described in the parshah. Korach contested the appointments of Moshe and Aharon, positions that had been - very clearly - chosen by G-d Himself. At Har Sinai, Hashem had publicly enveloped Moshe in a Divine cloud to dispel any doubt that he had been chosen as the Jewish leader (Sh’mos 19:9). Similarly, at the inauguration of the Mishkan, Hashem’s glory appeared in response to Aharon’s offerings as an unequivocal sign that He had handpicked Aharon to serve as the Kohen Gadol (Rashi, Vayikra 9:23). By challenging the legitimacy of Moshe and Aharon’s designations as leaders, Korach was, in essence, waging war against Hashem Himself. In such a fight, there was no contest - Korach was undoubtedly on the wrong side. 

By contrast, Rav Tzadok explained, our everyday disputes with family, neighbors, or shul-mates are never so one-sided. Contrary to the overwhelming feelings of justification and self-righteousness in the heat of an argument, no standpoint is ever absolutely right nor entirely dead wrong. While passion and bias make it difficult to acknowledge, there really are (at least) two sides to every story, and each deserves respect and understanding. There has only been one completely lopsided machlokes in history, and it ended with the declaration that “there will not be [another incident] like Korach” with an indisputably incorrect faction unworthy of any consideration.

Based on this understanding, the two explanations of this pasuk (assurance vs. command) can be integrated into a single narrative. Hashem commanded us to never again fight as stubbornly as Korach did, because He assured us that there would never again be a one-sided machlokes like Korach’s. Hashem’s promise that all future disagreements would have merit on each side is the very reason it is forbidden to become embroiled in an unyielding conflict. Such disposition fails to acknowledge the legitimacy of a viewpoint other than one’s own. We cannot fight like Korach because our opponent is not wrong like Korach.

Disagreement may be inevitable but, absent Korach and his crowd, flexibility and understanding is the only side worth considering.

Rabbi Yaakov Abramovitz is Assistant to the Rabbi at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills and presides over its Young Marrieds Minyan, while also pursuing a PsyD in School and Clinical Child Psychology at the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..