- Question: [Wednesday, 24th Teves 5783]
A big argument broke out in our Shul regarding a number of different matters in which some members are upset by how things are being run by the management and Gabaim. Tempers flared, voices were raised, as were a few hands, and it was really not a pretty sight for anyone to see, and everyone agrees that things got out of control. While I am part of the opinion group that originally voiced the concerns regarding the management, I now see that it is just not worth it to make Machlokes over. My colleagues however believe that this is a Machlokes Lisheim Shamayim as it deals with matters relating to holiness and service of God, and therefore claim that we cannot back down. What is your opinion on this matter?
The Poskim, amongst them the Alter Rebbe, have instructed us not to make Machlokes even over matters that are Lisheim Shamayim, and the Alter Rebbe goes as far as to state that “majority of suffering and tragedies experienced by the Jewish people come as a result of Machlokes Lesheim Shamayim.” Hence, one must be very careful in these matters and that differences of opinions be brought before a Beis Din, or agreed-upon Rav, to arbitrate in goodwill and faith, and not lead to discord amongst the two parties. Since peace is so important, in many instances we instruct the party which is zealous about a certain religious ideal to not make an issue of it for the sake of keeping the peace. Without doubt, it’s forbidden to allow the fires of Machlokes to flare in your community, and the differences of opinion in the congregation should be brought before a Rav or Beis Din, in goodwill and good spirits between the two sides, with both sides agreeing to not allow the dispute to venture into personal animosity. There is a letter by the Rebbe Rashab written to one such community who was suffering from a potential split due to Machlokes Lisheim Shamayim, and I would highly recommend for this letter to be distributed in your Shul for everyone to read for themselves. [See below by sources, for the source in the Igros Kodesh of the Rebbe Rashab]
Explanation: As in any case in which there is dispute between two parties, Jewish law and tradition requires the two parties to face a Beis Din, convey their concerns and defenses, and agree to abide by the final ruling through signing an arbitration agreement prior to the start of the judicial proceedings. Accordingly, the negation of Machlokes does not negate the ability for one to make what seems to him as a valid claim against another party in a Jewish court of law. Nonetheless, regarding this one must be especially careful that it does not lead to Machlokes, as commonly results from a dispute, which is defined as holding personal animosity and dislike for the other party, and treating them with disrespect, or in a way that expresses enmity such as by ignoring them and not talking with them anymore in Shul. Certainly, to shout and scream at them, attack them or their property, and to interfere with their lives is a grave transgression of Machlokes, in addition to the other particular prohibitions which are transgressed by doing so [i.e. Lo Sisna, Viahavta Lereiacha Kamocha, Lo Sikom, Lo Sitor, Lashon Hara, Mivayeish Pnei Chaveiro Berabim, etc etc!]. The Torah gives one the right to disagree, and gives one the podium in which he can voice his disagreement. It, however, does not give him the license to become the judge and the policeman to enforce his opinion, or even to make a Machlokes over it. The Poskim rule that the general prohibition against Machlokes applies even to a Machlokes that is Lesheim Shamayim, for religious reasons, and that a person should even nullify a custom or Chumra to avoid Machlokes. In fact, in a revolutionary letter, the Alter Rebbe states that majority of suffering and tragedies experienced by the Jewish people come as a result of Machlokes Lesheim Shamayim and therefore he implores upon the Chassidim to not make Machlokes even Lisheim Shamayim. In fact, the Rebbe Rayatz chose this letter to be the Teshura which he distributed by the wedding celebration of the Rebbe and Rebbetzin. Due to its historical importance, below will follow a full treatise on this letter: To note, that this letter was used by the Rebbe Rashab to argue against the desired split of a Shul in a certain community, even though the split was desired for reasons of Lisheim Shamayim, and I would highly recommend for this letter to be distributed in your Shul for everyone to read for themselves. [See below for the source in the Igros Kodesh of the Rebbe Rashab]
The letter of the Alter Rebbe:
Free translation: “To my colleague Reb Moshe [Meizlish of Vilna]. I ask and request that you arouse a spirit of purity in your heart to forgo your honor and feelings of offense [i.e. Lehavir Al Midosav], as the sages state that whoever forgives his honor and offense…, and I hereby ask you to be amongst those who are offended [but does not return the offense], and ask for public forgiveness from the philanthropist Reb Meir [Rafaels, the Rosh Hakahal of Vilna] before this coming Yom Kippur. Do this for my sake and for the sake of peace, as peace does not come out of discord, God forbid, and especially if it is a Machlokes Lisheim Shamayim, as majority of all the suffering and life disturbing events are the result of Machlokes Lisheim Shamayim, may God save us from it. Due to my great trust that these brief words will have a strong qualitative effect and will be fulfilled and not thrown behind your back God forbid, I have therefore remained brief, and I conclude peace, peace, from the master of peace as my soul seeks your peace.
The background: The above letter was written by the Alter Rebbe to the famed Chassid Rabbi Moshe Meizlish of the town of Vilna, urging him to make peace with another one of the Alter Rebbe’s famed Chassidim, Rav Meir Rafael’s, who was also from the town of Vilna and was one of the community leaders. It was seemingly written in the year 1796, although some are of the opinion that it was written in the year 1798. The Rebbe Rayatz gives the following background information regarding this letter: The Chassidim in the city of Vilna suffered from tremendous opposition from the hands of the Misnagdim and upon having won much power in the city’s community Council, desired to go on the offensive against the Misnagdim. However, not all Chassidim agreed to this tactic. The younger Chassidim, led by Rabbi Moshe Meizlish as their elder leader, were of the position to go on the offense against them. However, the older Chassidim, led by Rabbi Mayer Rafaels were against the idea, as they were big proponents of peace with the Misnagdim, having strived already for 5-6 years to achieve this. This difference of opinion caused Rabbi Moshe Meizlish who was in an emotional state of zealously to publicly besmirch Rabbi Mayer Rafaels in one of the meetings which were held on the subject. The Alter Rebbe intervened by sending a special delegation to the younger Chassidim, and Rav Moshe Meizlish, telling them that although they are correct, one’s mind must control one’s heart and that this is the entire service demanded of Anash, to have control over their hearts and emotions so it can be a dwelling place for love and fear of God, and therefore they must polish their hearts with good character traits and love of a fellow Jew, and God will take care of defending His honor when the wellsprings of the Baal Shem Tov will be spread. In the month of Elul of that year, the above letter was sent by the Alter Rebbe to Rav Moshe Meizlish.
It’s publication: This letter was first published in the Sefer Beis Rebbe, and was later published and distributed in its manuscript form by the Rebbe Rayatz in honor of the wedding of the Rebbe and his daughter the Rebbetzin, on the 14th of Kisleiv 5689, together with the above background information brought above.
Sources: See regarding that the prohibition against Machlokes applies even to a Machlokes that is Lesheim Shamayim, for religious reasons: Admur Igros Kodesh 32; Noda Beyehuda Kama Y.D. 1 “Today there is no real Machlokes Lesheim Shamayim”; Chasam Sofer Parshas Vayigash p. 218 and Parshas Korach; See regarding that a person should even nullify a custom or Chumra to avoid Machlokes: See Admur 468:11-14; See Igros Kodesh 14:391 regarding Nussach of Davening; 5:91; 16:12 and 99; 19:249 regarding wearing a Tallis as Chazan; See regarding that majority of suffering and tragedies experienced by the Jewish people come as a result of Machlokes Lesheim Shamayim: Igros Kodesh Admur Hazakein Letter 56 [new edition, 32 in old edition] p. 203, printed also in: Beis Rebbe 52 footnote 9 [new edition]; Igros Kodesh Rashab 1:289; Igros Kodesh Rayatz 13 p. 42; 16:328; Sefer Hatoldos Admur Hazakein p. 66; Ginzei Nistaros 54; Likkutim Yekarim p. 2; Mishnas Yoel p. 51; Igros Baal Hatanya 50; Chassidim Umisnagdim p. 301