A GOOD ARGUMENT
Rabbi David Walk
Political debate in our country has become extremely disturbing. The level and nature of attacks on our leaders has become, to my thinking, an embarrassment. I cringe from the shrill sound bytes emanating from supposedly sober sources of information, media commentaries and elected officials, themselves. Probably this kind of over heated rhetoric always existed, but the speeches that survive from bygone eras often showed a deep respect for the opponent even when the philosophic differences were profound. No issue divided America more than slavery, but when Daniel Webster addressed this issue when it was about to tear our beloved nation apart (January 26, 1830) in ways that make the health care debate look like playground quarrels, he treated his opponents with esteem and respect. He didn't question their loyalty and patriotism. He knew that they loved
Korach has gathered a large group of disgruntled Israelites, and attacks Moshe and his leadership. This was doing
We Jews love to argue and debate. Our Rabbinic literature is replete with sharp exchanges between our Sages. We haven't stopped ever since. However, it was pointed out 1800 years ago that there are two kinds of arguments: Any dispute that is for the sake of Heaven is destined to endure; one that is not for the sake of Heaven is destined to perish (Pirkei Avot 5:17). How do we know when the disputants are acting for the sake of Heaven or not? Since we can't read their thoughts, we must describe the behavior which characterizes the pure debate from the poisoned. I believe that there are two criteria, one during the debate and one after. During the debate, the arguments must be to the point, not aimed at the other person, and after the debate there must be mutual respect.
How can I maintain respect for the other, when we disagree so profoundly? The Sfat Emet (Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, 1847–1905) explains on the Mishneh that just like everyone's face (Hey, they didn't know about finger prints yet.) is different, so, too, our opinions are diverse. His grandfather, the Chidushi Harim (Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter, 1798-1866), furthered explained that this is right and appropriate, because everyone is here to do a job and all these assignments are different. So, it makes sense that we see things from different vantage points because we have divergent roles to play. But since every role is necessary for the destiny of the world, we must respect the point of view of the other, and listen sympathetically while it is stated.
Concerning the second point, that we must have renewed affection for the opponent when the issued has been decided, there is an enigmatic verse, which our Sages apply to this concept. The verse says: Concerning this it is told in the account of the Wars of the Lord, "What He gave at the
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the
During the vast nineteenth century debates over slavery, two of the greatest protagonists were John C. Calhoun and Henry Clay. They fought tooth and nail in a debate whose stakes couldn't be higher, but Calhoun intuited the message of our Sages. He said: "I don't like Clay. He is a bad man, an imposter, a creator of wicked schemes. I wouldn't speak to him, but, by God, I love him!" It's okay to be passionate for a cause, but with respect and even love for the opponent, because when the argument is for the sake of heaven, we're all on the same side.
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