In this week’s parshah, Korach brought himself and 250 chachamim to essentially end their own lives, by challenging Moshe Rabbeinu. Why? Chazal explain that they did so due to wanting a position of higher honor.
How could this be? These were from the most respected chachamim in the nation, and, were people who already had plenty of honor (see Rashi). What were they thinking?
Also, when Moshe approached Dasan and Aveiram, they completely ignored Moshe’s request to meet, which resulted in their own eternal deaths. Were they out of their minds? How can we understand their actions?
Have you ever heard of Cancel Culture? People have challenged each other’s views for much of human history, and often, they were able to agree to disagree.
But the internet – particularly social media – has changed how, when and where these kinds of interactions occur. The number of people who can go online and call for everyone to boycott or cancel an individual they don’t agree with, is immense, and doing so is known as “Cancel Culture”. The intent is to completely destroy the reputation and financial stability of anyone who even hints at an opinion that a group disagrees with.
Over the past few years, the most powerful, influential and popular people in secular society have been taken down by those who do not agree with their opinion. These masses who call to boycott the individual, or even to boycott an entire company (if they do not fire the individual)l, don’t care to debate, to consider the other side, or even just agree to disagree; rather, they are not satisfied until they have utterly destroyed those who disagree with them.
In 2021 alone, over a hundred “high-profile” individuals have been the victim of Cancel Culture and have had most, if not all, of their fame and income erased by it. Not even “ordinary citizens” are safe, as many “ordinary” people’s lives have been ruined by it as well.
The situation has deteriorated to the point that one no longer needs to even say anything to be targeted by Cancel Culture. At Skidmore College in New York State, a professor was boycotted for merely attending a pro-police “Back the Blue” rally. He didn’t participate in any way, he didn’t speak or shout slogans, or carry a sign. He says he just wanted to hear what the demonstrators had to say. But an email circulated at the college saying, "Tonight, I and other Skidmore students witnessed Profs. David Peterson at an anti-Black Lives Matter protest. We demand the immediate dismissal of Professor Skidmore for engaging in hateful conduct that threatens Black Skidmore students”. The professor is now being investigated by the school and virtually all of his students have dropped out of his class.
Clearly, people’s lives are being ruined if they have ever been caught even looking like they agree with something that others don’t agree with.
Rav Yosef Elefant addressed our above question in a shiur and brought R’ Yisroel Salanter who explains that mankind has an incredible and uncanny ability to extinguish their power of seichel, intellect, in the pursuit to win an argument. This is true for even the most intelligent people on earth. R’ Salanter explains that this is an immutable fact of human nature, to varying degrees. In fact, he says, the way one can determine whether or not one has extinguished one’s own power of seichel, is to see if one can be open minded and truly consider opinions (from good people) that go against one’s own opinion or upbringing.
Koach, his 250 chasuva followers, and Dasan and Avirum fell into this trap. They decided they did not agree with Moshe Rabbeinu, and after they made up their mind, they were completely closed-minded to any facts, or even to the most-dire of consequences. By deciding to be closed-minded and not listen to anyone who said something that contradicted what they wanted, they essentially utterly extinguished their koach ha’seichel.
Nowadays, most people will not even listen to the other side of another person or group that they disagree with. As R’ Yisroel Salanter explains, this extinguishes wisdom.
Such a force is clearly highly destructive. And as we can clearly see from today’s Cancel Culture, and from most of society’s very one-sided and ridiculous beliefs, mankind is susceptible as much to this downfall today as ever before.
We have to make sure that we do not fall prey to our generations mistakes.
While there are many areas we can apply this lesson and understanding within our own lives, let’s consider one very practical application:
While of course we should not entertain the thoughts or arguments of the goyim (we have the Torah to guide us) or of the Yetzer Hara - as we know he was only created to destroy us - we should be more open-minded to listening to the good yidden of the world. Yidden should never exercise any flavor of Cancel Culture towards each other. In the words of Rabbi Miller, the chassidim should listen to the values of the litfish, like putting a larger emphasis on learning Torah. The litfish should be receptive to the wisdom of the chassidim, like emulating chassidim’s varmkeit (warmth), chessed and the way they are machshiv their Rebba (leaders) so unwaveringly. We should all learn from the Sefardim’s middah of focusing on emunah and how they follow the words of their rabbis without question & with the highest level of honor & respect. These are just a few of many examples, of areas in which we can all learn from each other. Truth be told, a lot of this is already going on now – most yidden nowadays are becoming a little bit more like each other and are becoming more receptive to learning from each other’s virtues.
If we do so, and if we avoid the mistake of Korach and his followers of shutting down any opinion that goes against our agenda or beliefs, it will certainly bring mashiach closer and make ourselves and the world a better place.