The Maharal teaches that if we study the word shalom (peace) we can learn the deeper meaning behind it. The root of the word shalom is shalem (wholeness). Shalom is the complete picture. It begins with the letter shin which has three lines. The first line points towards the right which represents chesed, an outpouring of love and kindness. The second line leans towards the left which signifies boundaries, resistance, and overcoming evil. The bar on the bottom holds everything together. Anything that requires overcoming of the self is difficult to achieve. The shin tells us that the attractive pieces of the puzzle are no less part of the truth than the less attractive pieces.
The next letter, lamed, is the highest letter of the aleph bet. It signifies the picture that joins together all the millions of pieces, namely Hashem‘s wisdom, which is above our wisdom.
The last letter mem is closed. If the picture is whole, it is impregnable, it cannot be broken. If we live in peace we cannot be destroyed by our enemies, since there’s nothing for them to hold on to.
Machloket (strife) gains its energy by latching on to what is lacking. When two people argue each has an agenda to prove that the other is missing something. This can go on and on. The nature of imperfection is to continually increase. A garment is hard to tear. Once it has even a small tear in it, it is easy to rip the rest.
People will always have flaws, because the good part of a person or group comes from the same root as the bad part. Anything with a good side has a potential bad side. You don’t have to focus on what’s lacking. You can choose to look at what’s there and see its beauty and integrity. If you hone in on what’s missing, it will become bigger and bigger until it overshadows the good.
You can look at the same attribute from many angles. Let’s take the example of a husband and wife. She is more spontaneous and he is more pedantic. The flip side of spontaneity might be anger or talking too much. The husband could choose to focus on that until the good part of his wife’s nature is forgotten. He may be precise, honest, dedicated, and reliable. Yet she may choose to view him as boring or emotionless. Then it’s like the chet in machloket. The chet has a large opening on the bottom signifying endless descent.
Machloket is very hard to get rid of. Once the words were said and the positions were taken, it’s difficult to go back. By nature, people enter easily into machloket because we all are different from one another. From that perspective no two people will get along. True shalom means coming together despite our individual differences.
A person involved in machloket can sink so deeply that he’ll end up battling even against Hashem‘s presence. He may think the ends justify the means and commit evil in order to validate his side of the machloket. A person may go against his rav, which is tantamount to going against the Shechina. The mitzvah of U’bo tibdak teachesus to attach ourselves to a person who lives in ways that we aspire to. Studying how a tzaddik exemplifies good middot reveals an entirely different picture. This is how one can come closer to Hashem. Rebelling against one’s teacher is rebelling against the One Above.
The next letter is kuf. It’s tail goes all the way down. This teaches us that the end of machloket is descent to gehinom. Gehinom is the absolute absence of Hashem. A baal machloket’s direction takes him to greater and greater separation from Hashem.
The Midrash notes that the Torah does not say “ki tov” (this is good) on the second day of creation, yom sheini. Sheini comes from the word shoni – different. Being different is good when used well, when it is part of a something complete. Rav Yosi bar Chalafta said that gehinom (hell) was created on the second day. Gehinom is the tragic mixture of ego and shoni – affirmation of self above all others. Rav Chananya said machloket was created on the second day. Gehinom and machloket are one.
The Zohar writes that Korach had a very great soul. Had he not become a baal machloket, he could have been the leader of the levi’im. He didn’t try to discern Hashem‘s picture of the puzzle. He only felt his personal frustration. Viewing things from his place of personal agenda, he claimed Moshe wasn’t big enough. He felt he could lead better. The truth, which he may not have been aware of, was that these feelings only came to him after Elitzafan was appointed nasi. What drove him to rebellion was the mistaken notion that someone had taken away what was coming to him.
The last letter taf symbolizes ordinary day to day machloket. It is the conflict within ourselves when the different aspects of our personality war against each other. It is the battle of the heart and mind of the body and conscious. There’s also machloket within the family, where a person’s sense of self is so big that there’s no room for other people to have a role. When Hashem is removed from the picture, one’s ego takes over. A machloket in the home can lead to collapse of the family unit unless something stops it. Likewise, machloket within oneself can lead to disintegration of the personality unless something intervenes.
Machloket usually burns itself out. The hot issues of yesterday are no longer significant today. The further a person descends to gehinom the less truth there is and the more ridiculous the machloket becomes. It does stay with the baalei machloket, whose whole identity is tied up in the machloket. Resolution is impossible for them. However, the issue itself will be forgotten and the baalei machloket will be stuck spending their life committed to an irrelevant issue.
The fine line between defending truth and being a ba’al machloket is something we don’t negotiate very well. When you find yourself arguing against people who have a different opinion than yours, or battling yourself, consult with people who are uninvolved.
May Hashem bless us to discern the truth in ourselves and other people. May He protect us from all our enemies within and without.