Another episode of conflict, I presume?
The parshah may bear the name of Korach, but we cannot forget the volatile role of Dasan and Aviram, the troublemakers who jumped at any opportunity to disrespect Moshe and challenge his authority. In fact, it is possible that they were the true instigators behind Korach and the entire rebellion (see Ohr HaChayim, BaMidbar 26:9)!
As the tension reached a breaking point, Moshe made one final attempt to reconcile with Dasan and Aviram, who stubbornly refused to even meet with Moshe (BaMidbar 16:12). Rashi comments that Moshe’s efforts teach us an important lesson: Ein machzikin b’machlokes. Simply translated, “machzikin,” from the root “chazak,” means “to strengthen.” Accordingly, one should not exacerbate or “fan the flames” of a conflict. This is why Moshe tried everything to restore peace.
However, the Chasam Sofer added a deeper level of interpretation of this phrase. In halachic terminology, a “chazakah” is a description of the status quo. A person who maintains a chazakah on a piece of property remains the presumed owner until it can be proven otherwise. Similarly, repeating a behavior three times can create a chazakah that this will be the “new normal” going forward. In this light, Ein machzikin b’machlokes means that one must not treat a state of conflict as the default position. Even if two parties have been embroiled in strife for many years, they should not assume that this is the way the relationship must continue in the future.
After dealing with Dasan and Aviram’s belligerent and unreasonable behavior for many decades, it would have been understandable if Moshe had labeled them a lost cause. As they, yet again, fueled division and hostility among the nation, one would have expected Moshe to move straight toward quelling the uprising with force – which he eventually did. But rather than rely on previous interactions and assume that their differences were irreconcilable, Moshe made one final attempt to open a peace negotiation. As Rashi says, from here we learn Ein machzikin b’machlokes, there is no status quo of conflict. Moshe did not presume to know how things would go. It was only after Dasan and Aviram explicitly reaffirmed their defiance, that Moshe asked Hashem to intervene and “take them down.”
Too often, we assume there is a chazakah on machlokes. A sense of conflict is presumed to be the default reality, and further attempts to reconcile are never even attempted. This is how an old disagreement becomes a longstanding feud. Instead of treating past experience as present evidence, we can always give peace another go. Even if previous attempts were unsuccessful, tempers often settle down with time, space, and reflection. Additionally, the very willingness to establish a truce can soften aged bitterness and contempt.
No one had more reason to be more pessimistic than Moshe Rabbeinu in his dealings with Dasan and Aviram. And yet, he modeled for us that, whatever has happened in the past, one must always strive to resolve interpersonal differences. If we strike out again, then at least we can say we tried, instead of relying on the chazakah. Until that point, we must not allow the bad blood of yesterday to spill over into today and tomorrow.