The Maggid of Dubno emphasizes in a moshol how a person often inadvertently contradicts himself. R' Reuven Klein would always remain in shul after shacharis to study Torah before going to work. Once Sir Peter Conrad, a prosperous businessman of the Royal Court, came to Reuven's house to conclude a profitable transaction with him while Reuven was still studying in shul. Conrad did not find Reuven and went away. After Reuven heard from his wife what had happened he scolded her for not calling him to come home immediately from shul.
The next day an impressive-looking person came asking for Reuven while he was studying in shul. This time his wife knew better, or at least thought she knew better. She ran to the shul and urged Reuven to return home quickly. Reuven did not lose any time and immediately returned home. To his dismay, the impressive person was no one but a meshulach seeking a contribution for a Torah institution. Reuven turned to his wife and said angrily: "Aren't you ashamed to bother me in the middle of my studying Torah?"
All of a sudden he became a masmid who must not be disturbed in the middle of his studies.
Contradictions fill peoples' lives. Conflicting stands are commonplace throughout one's life, and sometimes are adopted within a surprisingly short span of time. In Chazal we see many instances of people backtracking instantly on what they had previously strongly believed in.
Korach claimed that everyone should be equal. No ideological justification exists, he argued, for one person to rule over another, equally capable, person. "As all of the congregation are holy, every one of them, and Hashem is among them, why then do you raise yourselves up above the congregation of Hashem?" (Bamidbar 16:3). When Moshe proposed (v. 6-7) a test, that each person offer ketores on a machtoh and the person whose ketores was chosen by Hashem would be the head of bnei Yisroel, Korach immediately agreed, since he was convinced his machtoh would be chosen.
But according to his principles of equality, Korach should have vehemently opposed all sorts of tests, since any result would be ideologically unsatisfactory according to his stance. Whoever was chosen -- even if he -- that would be a flagrant inequality.
Another apparent contradiction was that Korach in his campaign against Moshe Rabbenu went from one shevet to another and mocked the mitzvos. He even spun a tale about an unfortunate almonoh who lost everything she had in the world because of Moshe's mitzvos, while Moshe became rich from her misery. If Korach wanted to be the leader of the Jewish Nation instead of Moshe Rabbenu, he too would be responsible for the people to observe the mitzvos. This, however, did not bother him in the least. Why?
HaRav Eliezer Kahn zt'l, one of the heads of Gateshead Yeshiva, and the author of Nachalas Eliezer, points out another amazing particular. When Korach joked about the mitzvos he was claiming they were not Divine, that Moshe had fabricated them. If so, when Moshe announced that Hashem would show who is the kodosh through the test of the machtos, he should not have believed Moshe, in accordance with his stance that Moshe was inventing his apparent nevu'os. Why did he suddenly believe him completely?
We know that Korach did not act thus out of foolishness. Chazal (Midrash Tanchuma ch. 5, cited in Rashi on Bamidbar 16:7) write that Korach was a clever person and even was zoche to ruach hakodesh. In fact this is what misled him. Korach saw through ruach hakodesh that Shmuel, who was equal to Moshe and Aharon, would be his descendant. This surely showed his own importance too, he thought, since offspring inherit their forebear's qualities, and this indicated to him that he would survive the test of the machtos. (His mistake was, as Rashi points out, that his children did teshuvah and therefore his lineage continued -- through them, not him.)
But how could he change his mind, his fervent call to the masses for equality? How could he want to enforce the same mitzvos he criticized? Why did he now believe Moshe when he announced that Hashem Himself was testing them? How could such a person, pronounced clever by Chazal, so abruptly reverse himself?
Even HaKodosh Boruch Hu's inanimate creations sometimes act inconsistently. When the world was created, the moon argued that it was impossible for "two kings to don the same crown" (Chulin 60b), an argument opposite to that of Korach.
For there to be any law and order in this world, one power has to rule over the other. Equality is not a viable social system. It is impossible that all people have the same say. After the moon was commanded by Hashem to diminish its own greatness, it suddenly understood the opposite of its original claim. The moon argued with Hashem and did not agree to lose any of its importance.
The moon's behavior is entirely illogical. Initially it contended that one power must prevail, but at the end it argued passionately against the decision to carry out that ideology. The moon could surely not argue that it wanted the sun to become smaller and not it, since that did not change the basic ideological platform.
The gemora (Nedorim 39b) tells us that the sun and moon threatened that they would no longer illuminate the world if Korach, who had humiliated Moshe, were not punished. Two thousand years had passed since the sun and the moon were created, and during this long period of time many tzaddikim were, sad to say, criticized. Why did the case of Moshe and Korach especially bother them?
Chava, the mother of mankind, lacked firmness in her convictions. Initially Chava accepted fully the contention of the nochosh that she would gain when she ate of the eitz hadaas and would be able to then discern between good and evil. "The nochosh said to the woman, `You shall surely not die, for Elokim knows that on the day you eat of it, then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.' And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and did eat" (Bereishis 2:4- 6).
Nonetheless, after Chava ate of the eitz hadaas she feared she would die and Odom would marry another woman, and therefore she gave him also to eat -- "and she gave also to her husband with her." If Chava was so positively convinced that she would only profit by eating from the eitz hadaas, why was she later afraid that something bad would happen to her? Why did she need to give the fruit to Odom Horishon? After all, she was previously convinced that nothing would happen to her.
Throughout the annals of history, man's self-contradictions are ubiquitous. A mekubal who could foretell what would happen in the future once lived in Poland. The poritz (feudal lord) who ruled over the area where that tzaddik lived, honored him immensely. The feudal lords of Poland periodically met together to discuss the country's needs. At one such meeting this poritz happened to boast to others that under his jurisdiction lived a tzaddik who knew what would happen in the future. Another poritz disbelieved his fellow poritz's story and could not tolerate that the other had something he did not have. He demanded that the poritz bring the tzaddik to the next conference of feudal lords, and there he would test him and show everyone that the Jew did not know the future.
The poritz's plan was diabolic. He would ask the Jew when he himself would die. If the Jew answered with some date in the future, the poritz would immediately take out his gun and shoot him, and thus disprove what the tzaddik said. If instead the Jew answered that he would die that day, the poritz would anyway kill him. Although that would prove the tzaddik right, the rival poritz would at least gain this much, that his fellow poritz did not have any advantage over him any longer.
When he was brought to the meeting, the Jew was inspired by Heaven to say that he did not know of a specific date when he would die but had a Divine sign of the time of his death: On the same day the rival poritz died, so would he.
What should have happened was that the poritz, an ardent disbeliever of the tzaddik, would shoot him. The poritz, however, did nothing. The other feudal lords urged him to do away with the Jew, but he flatly refused. One poritz even wanted to take the poritz's pistol and kill the Jew himself, but the poritz would under no circumstance allow him.
Why should he not have killed the Jew, if he was previously such a strong opponent of his? How did he suddenly turn into his strongest protagonist?
All the above clearly proves that an individual's interests distort his reasoning. People think subjectively and not objectively. A man's personal interests function below the threshold of conscious awareness and dictate his opinion. When his concerns change, so do his views and even his hitherto unbreakable convictions.
Our duty in life is to attain a tangible belief in Hashem that cannot be influenced by personal interests. If we do not reach such a rock-solid belief we will continue to live with contradictions, as we have seen many times in Chazal, how subliminal considerations caused an instantaneous reversal about what was formerly zealously deemed correct.
As long as Korach gained from advocating equality of the masses he actually believed in it fully. He likewise thought that mitzvah observance effected cruel and ludicrous results, and that what Moshe told bnei Yisroel was not said to him by Hashem. Korach was not lying to others and was definitely an astute person. He assuredly believed in what he was saying.
When the tables turned, and it was obvious he would gain by promoting a monarchy and advising that the mitzvos be observed meticulously, and he further decided that the test of the machtos would show who is king, his logic instantly changed. At that point he understood, and understood well, that the opposite stand from what he had previously professed the whole time was true.
The moon, before it was faced with the consequence of diminishing itself, understood logically that there can be only one leader, and that having many leaders for the world would lead to anarchy and chaos. After the moon was commanded to diminish itself, the opposite became crystal clear. Equality was surely the only fair way the world should operate.
Only after Moshe was disgraced did the sun and moon refuse to shine any longer. If Korach was correct and equality is the right way of life, that showed that their own arrangement of the moon's diminishing itself and the sun's shining as strongly as ever was altogether incorrect.
Although Chava was so convinced by the nochosh's argument that she decided to go ahead and eat of the eitz hadaas and not heed Hashem's warning, this was only because her reasoning was steered by her personal interests. She thought she would gain by eating the fruit. After she had already eaten of the eitz hadaas her logic changed drastically, since now it was more profitable for her to take into consideration that perhaps what Hashem had commanded would come true, and she would die and Odom would marry another woman.
The malevolent poritz truly believed his rival's Jew had no spiritual power whatsoever. His belief was bent that way since it paid for him to think like that. If the Jew did have power, the other poritz had something he did not have. After the tzaddik said that when he died, so would that poritz, now the poritz stood to gain by thinking just the opposite: perhaps the tzaddik knew what he was talking about, and he would be endangering his own life if he killed the Jew. The poritz not only did not himself kill the Jew, he made sure no one else would touch him either.
"Yosef said to his brethren, `I am Yosef. Does my father yet live?' And his brothers could not answer him, for they were terrified at his presence" (Bereishis 45: 3). The Midrash Rabbah (93:10) infers from this posuk that in the osid lovo Hashem will rebuke each person according to his true, individual essence. The Beis HaLevi (parshas Vayigash) explains that at that time a person who claimed he could not possibly give tzedokoh since he did not have the material means, will be shown clearly how he spent much money for his own needs and worldly pleasures.
The Chofetz Chaim once asked a certain person for tzedokoh, and the man answered he was already yotzei giving tzedokoh. He had fulfilled his obligation and no more was required from him. The Chofetz Chaim asked him whether he acted the same way with his clothing. Was he frugal when buying new clothes, telling himself that he was already yotzei? Did he limit himself in the type of food he bought for himself and his family and say he was yotzei, or does that feeling of having fulfilled his obligation only relate to ruchniyus?
People constantly contradict themselves in the way they live. They do not do this intentionally, but their course of reasoning is provoked by their personal interests at the time.
The gemora (Sanhedrin 28b) comments that Odom Horishon was a min. How could Odom Horishon, who was so great, the "creation of Hashem's hands" (Daas Tevunos pg. 125), be possibly considered a min, someone who lacked emunah in Hashem? Rashi (Bereishis 7:7) writes that "Noach had little emunah; he believed and did not believe." What is meant by Noach's believing and not believing?
Both Odom Horishon and Noach surely believed in Hashem. It seems, however, that their belief could be somewhat bent out of kilter according to their interests at the moment. Chazal criticized even such spiritual giants, one for being a min and the other not being a complete believer.
In his shmuessim in Yeshivas Ponevezh, HaRav Yechezkel Levenstein zt'l would always talk at length about emunah. Surely no talmid of that illustrious yeshiva was suspected of having any doubts in his emunah. HaRav Ben-Tziyon Bamberger zt'l explained that many levels of emunah exist. If someone is a true ma'amin he never sins. A true ma'amin is someone who sees past his momentary interests and can therefore reach a tangible feeling of Hashem's presence. Such a person cannot possibly sin.
We see how many gedolei olom were led off course because of their subjective interests. Our duty is to fortify ourselves to sense Hashem's existence without any inner contradictions. This is especially important in the light of what I believe I have seen in the seforim kedoshim: that all aveiros are rooted in Odom Horishon's transgression. Chava was guided by her interests, that completely reshaped her views. We must make an overall effort to alter such improper behavior and reach true emunah in Hashem.
HaRav Eliezer Dunner is the rav of the Adas Yisroel Kehilla, located in the Ma'ayenei Yeshua Hospital of Bnei Brak, and a dayan on the Beis Din of Shearis Yisroel. This is based on the notes of those attending the shiur..