Rabbi Ronen Neuwirth
Rabbi Ronen NeuwirthGil Eliahu

The word Machloket (dispute) is often perceived as a negative concept. Korach's story in this week's Torah portion in the Diaspora is a classic example of a negative dispute - a controversy full of intrigue and egotism.

Yet the opposite of Machloket is not the avoidance of conflict. The Sages taught us that the opposite of a negative dispute is Machloket L’Shem Shamayim, a dispute for the sake of Heaven, such as the dispute between Hillel and Shammai.

According to the Sages, any positive dispute that is for the sake of Heaven will always endure. If such a Machloket is destined to endure, it means that it is essential and required in the world!

The root of the word ‘Machloket’ is ‘chelek’, a ‘part’, whereas the root of the word ‘peace’ is ‘Shalem’, ‘whole.’ Machloket arises because, owing to our very natures, we are divided by our differing opinions. Peace is achieved by building the full picture that is composed of all of the pieces. Since each of us is just a small part of the bigger picture, it is imperative that we contribute the shape, depth, weight and color of each of our unique pieces to the full puzzle.

Sometimes we feel that another ’piece of the puzzle‘ threatens us, and that is usually how a Machloket begins. However, along with the sense of threat and insecurity, it may actually help us to sharpen our minds and to understand more accurately the importance of our part in the puzzle.

Only by putting all the pieces together can we build the whole picture and achieve ’Shalom’”. That is how our nation was formed, with different tribes playing different roles in the story, as happened during our forty-year journey in the desert.

The opposite of love is not hate, but rather apathy, which can be more painful than hatred. The avoidance of conflict can sometimes be even more aggressive than a dispute which is not for the sake of Heaven. This is because avoidance conveys detachment, disconnection, indifference and apathy, while

Machloket is essential to establishing connection and closeness, even between people who disagree.

Shalom Bayit – making peace within families - is not meant to stop a disagreement, but rather to help each of the parties appreciate and respect their Chelek - their position - and the position of the other party, in order to build Shalom, peace, together. In fact, each one of us can serve as a mirror for the other, if we can manage any conflict with respect, compassion and empathy. Only by working through the Machloket can we achieve Shalom and see the whole (shalem) picture, and this is why a disagreement that is conducted respectfully, for the sake of Heaven, will always endure.

So why can't we fix the rifts in our world? Sometimes it is because we do not know how to communicate. We tend to judge, blame and hurt one another, or use forcefulness and aggression. All these methods actually emanate from our insecurities. When we feel threatened, we fear that our ’part’ will be harmed, and we tend to escape and hide behind the veil of defensiveness. We attack instead of listening, and hurt others to protect our own ego and to cover-up for our weaknesses. Becoming judgmental is a psychological reaction that stems from the fear of exposing our flaws and weaknesses. As our Sages say: "Anyone who disqualifies others disqualifies them with his own flaws."

If we can pay attention to how we manage conflicts, along with truly listening respecting the other party;

If we can find the courage to replace our ego with love of the other;

If we can let go of our judgment and engage in compassion instead;

If we can convert our apathy into empathy; then we can conduct our disputes for the sake of Heaven, ensuring that every Machloket will lead to Shalom Bayit – fraternal peace - and hence endure forever, since it will enable an open-ended journey of personal and collective growth.

Rav Ronen Neuwirth, formerly Rav of the Ohel Ari Congregation in Ra'anana is author of “The Narrow Halakhic Bridge: A Vision of Jewish Law in the Post-Modern Age”, published in May by Urim Publications.