The rebellion that Korach fomented against Moses and Aaron is considered a classic example of a quarrel that was not for the sake of heaven. As our Sages say,1 “What is a machloket [dispute] not for the sake of Heaven? The machloket of Korach and his company.” In fact, the verse, “And one shall not be like Korach and his group”2 is understood by our Sages3 to be a biblical injunction against involvement in a dispute.

We present here a collection of teachings from our sages, of blessed memory, about the importance of maintaining peace, and the destructive potenial of anger and strife.

“Great is Peace”

The final paragraph of the six orders of the Mishnah states: “Great is peace, for G‑d found no other vessel for [His] blessings other than peace.” Meaning that G‑d only sends His blessings to a family, community, country, etc., if it is in a state of peace.

Ensuring that we, personally, are at peace with our fellows does not sufficeIn the case of a woman who is a sotah (suspected adulteress), the process of—hopefully—clearing her of suspicion involves erasing the name of G‑d.4 Based on this, our sages say:5 “The power of peace is so great . . . that G‑d’s holy name, written in holiness, is erased in water in order to bring peace between the sotah and her husband.”

It is even permissible to distort the truth in order to preserve peace. G‑d Himself did this, as did the brothers of Joseph.6

Ensuring that we, personally, are at peace with our fellows does not suffice. Rather, we must actively promote peace between others. As Hillel would say: “Be of the disciples of Aaron—a lover of peace, a pursuer of peace, one who loves the creatures and draws them close to Torah.”7 Our sages teach us that Aaron the high priest would employ various methods to bring peace to couples and friends who were not getting along. According to our sages,8 the mitzvah of brokering peace is one whose divine reward is enjoyed both in this world and in the next (as opposed to most mitzvot, whose rewards can only be expected in the World to Come).

A story I heard firsthand:

A groom once presented his dilemma to the Rebbe: “I would like my father and father-in-law to escort me to the chupah (wedding canopy), and my mother and mother-in-law to escort my bride—as per Chabad custom. My future in-laws, however, insist that they walk their daughter to the chupah, and that my parents should walk me to the chupah—as is the popular custom amongst most other Orthodox circles. How should we resolve this issue?”

The Rebbe responded: “Since a Jewish minhag (custom) is Torah,9 you should try to keep your/our minhag. This is true, however, only if you can accomplish this in a peaceful manner. If, however, it will cause discord in the family, you should back down. Since the entire Torah was given only to bring peace to the world,10 as the verse says11: ‘[The Torah’s] ways are pleasant ways, and all its paths are peace,’ it is not logical to allow a minhag to cause a dispute, thus countering the reason and purpose of the entire Torah!”

The Danger of Dispute

“The beginning of strife is like letting out water, and before you are exposed, abandon the quarrel.”12 A small leak in a dam can lead to a huge flood. It’s quite easy to close the small leak, but to fix it later, after the flood has let loose, is almost impossible. This is also true about arguments.13 One should always endeavor to stop an argument before it spirals out of control.

It's quite easy to close the small leak, but to fix it later, after the flood has let loose, is almost impossible . . .In fact, the Rosh says:14 “Do not remain in a state of dispute with your friend for even one day. And (rather) humble yourself before him and be the first to ask for forgiveness.”

Ahithophel, King David’s wisest advisor, joined the side of Absalom son of David in his rebellion against his father. When Ahithophel realized that King David’s side would be victorious, he went home to give his children his last will and testament, and then committed suicide. One of the pieces of advice he gave them was: Do not get involved in disputes—this after he realized that his involvement in a dispute cost him his life.15

The second Holy Temple was destroyed because of the sin of baseless hatred. The exile that has followed is the longest exile, because this sin is a very difficult for an individual to recognize within himself and rectify.16

Advice on How to Stay Away from Disputes

  1. “Never stop seeking friends and people who will love you. Do not minimize [the danger posed by even] one enemy.”17
  2. “Do not get angry about trivial matters against any person, lest you gather enemies for no reason.”18
  3. “Do not refuse the [requests of the] members of your city. Nullify your will before the will of others.”19
  4. “One should strive to never get angry. Bear embarrassment and don’t return it. Forgive one who sins against you. Whoever gets angry—if he is a scholar, he will lose his wisdom; if he is a prophet, he will lose his prophecy; if he was destined for a high office, he will lose that. Getting angry is like idol worship. It makes the Shechinah (divine presence) worthless in the person’s eyes. Whoever forgoes his anger is forgiven for all his sins.”20
  5. “Do not quarrel with anyone without cause, if he did you no harm.”21
  6. “Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones . . .”“A man of wrath stirs up quarrels, but he who is slow to anger abates strife.”22
  7. “Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”23
  8. “A gentle reply turns away wrath, but a distressing word stirs up anger.”24 Often, the same response can bring either resolution or conflict. It all depends on the tone of voice.
  9. “A passerby who becomes embroiled in a quarrel that is not his is like one who grabs a dog by its ears.”25 It’s bad enough that we have our own arguments; certainly we should not mix into someone else’s.