and its permanent resolutions
From the first few moments after the big bang, what would later become the galaxies of the universe exploded at rapid velocities away from one another, and they continue to do so today.
So too is our natural tendency as people.
We walk into an elevator or a movie theater, and like gas molecules spreading to fill the volume they're in, we almost unconsciously find our spots with as much space between us as possible. This is surprising given that social media dominates the pie chart of our total internet usage. We are, at least virtually, social creatures. You would think that the real world social fabric would be much more...well, social.
So too, within our companies and organizations, we quickly discover that individualism runs deeper than just everyone seeking their own personal space. The economy is comprised predominantly by individuals who are, more often than not, driven by their own self-interest.
Despite our efforts to transcend the primitive forces of evolution, the psychology of "survival of the fittest" seems to lurk not far beneath the veneer of our good manners and trained chivalry. From this perspective, our world, our economy, our marriages and our relationships in general seem to be doomed to tear at the seams.
With this not-so-cheerful framing of the human condition, we can begin to understand a most mysterious statement of the Talmud.
But first, a few words of Biblical context:
In the second year after leaving Egypt, a rebellion against Moshe and Aaron, led by a prominent Levite named Korach, gained a great deal of momentum. As is still common with many of these types of demonstrations today, other smaller, essentially unrelated interest groups linked arms in protest against the establishment. Korach’s motivations were wrapped up in his feeling that nepotism should have worked more in his favor, but the two hundred and fifty men of stature who joined him were ultimately moved by a sort of spiritual socialism. At the top of this hodgepodge pyramid, Korach was aided by two people who had already, on several occasions, served as major ringleaders against Moshe's leadership — Dattan and Aviram.
The threats of revolution reached such a fever pitch that God Himself communicated that He had had enough, and told Moshe and Aaron to step aside to allow Him to end what would have otherwise been the collapse of the entire structure of national authority. Here, shockingly, Moshe interceded. He went beyond even God's letter of the law, on his own accord. Without ego, as was his hallmark, Moshe personally sent a message to the homes of Dattan and Aviram to please reconcile. The two of them responded with further personal attacks and accusations, and emerged proudly from their homes unmoved by Moshe’s gesture towards peace, and the rest is history.
Regarding his almost inexplicable attempt to find a peaceful solution above and beyond reason, justice, and God's own judgement and decree, the Talmud says something that was meant to be startling:
How could this possibly be true?
How could it occur to the Talmud that if Moshe, a victim to an uprising aimed personally against him, had not gone above and beyond the letter of the law to try to diffuse the argument, he would have been considered equivalent to Korach and his cohorts who started the whole mess in the first place???
The reason we are bothered by this question is because we have it all wrong.
Peace is not natural.
The default since the big bang banged is not peace, but pieces of the universe moving in different directions.
Moshe understood that if he didn’t proactively work to resolve the conflict — even one started by others — he was enabling the forces of disunion of the universe to prevail, and there would have been very little separating him from Korach and his consiglieries.
When it comes to conflict resolution, if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem.
We look at those who cause problems, as disturbing the natural order of things, and wait for them to stop, so that everything automatically returns to status quo of perfect harmony. This is a fairy tale, and a harmful one at that. It causes us to point fingers and remain passive, all the while allowing fights to fester.
If your spouse starts a fight because he or she was having a bad day, you complaining about it, or simply dishing out some good old fashioned silent-treatment, will undoubtedly make the problem worse — not better. This makes you part of the problem — not the solution.
Friends can get into a fight, and years later still be "in a fight" no longer knowing how it started.
Perpetuating the animosity your family has towards your cousin’s ex-husband and his family puts you on the same side of the war against peace as whoever “started it.” This leads to the common situation that a decade after the divorce, the divorced couple may have figured out how to get along for the sake of their kids, but their families are still in a feud.
If your co-worker did something that ticked you off, time rarely heals these wounds. Co-workers quickly make it into one another’s “black books,” and very little will be done to get those records expunged.
Of course, all of these situations are perfectly natural.
This is the point.
The law of social inertia states that people in motion away from one another will stay in motion away from one another unless an equal and opposite force acts upon them.
Perpetuating problems between people is the norm.
Forgiveness, reconciliation, and mending those breaches in a real way is totally unnatural.
"שלום" is one of God's Names (you actually can't say "שלום" in the bathroom for this reason). Peace is Divine precisely because proactively goes against the natural current of the physical world towards disunity.
In the words of our sages, peace must be "chased after" with all of our strength for it runs away from us.
It doesn’t matter who started it. See if you can switch gears and change the tone of the conversation with your spouse before a quibble turns into an all-out fight.
Whether you’re implicated in a fight between friends or not, reach out before a little distance between people becomes a chasm.
Family is preserved by proactive investment to keep people from growing apart.
Don’t get sucked into workplace politics and do what you can to help others get past their differences.
In all these cases, we need to act as fast as we can, because otherwise the universe will keep spreading us apart. In the face of these divisive tides of the universe, we are charged by the Torah to heed our inner voice, and supernaturally invest our energies above and beyond "right" and "wrong" to bring that elusive, divine state called שלום-Shalom into our world, one relationship at a time. May we have the courage to create that world together.
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