A GOOD ARGUMENT
Rabbi David Walk
A couple of weeks ago I marched with my wonderful students from Bi-Cultural Day School, here in Stamford, CT, at the Celebrate Israel Parade. It was a glorious day. The weather was perfect, the supporters were plentiful, and the atmosphere was pleasant. And then we arrived at 59th Street. Even though there were 35,000 marchers and hundreds of thousands of spectators, the thirty protesters standing there were like a storm cloud over the otherwise sunny day. It obviously wasn't their numbers or even their message (We're not yet ready for a Jewish state in the Holy Land) which bothered me so much. It was their bearing and manner. They transmitted hate. Loving fellow Jews is such a basic value in Judaism and enmity in the family has caused such disaster over the centuries, that their taunts and gestures haunt me. This week's Torah reading is consumed with the negativity of internecine strife, and, so, this is a good week to discuss this troubling phenomenon.
Rabbi Yehudah Amital OB''M pointed out that our Sages have taught that the three most basic traits of Jews are being rachmanim, bayshanim and gomlei chasadim (merciful, bashful, and benevolent). However, in a more amusing sense, our other well-known trait is our great ability to argue with each other. And that's not essentially bad. He points out that in the Western world today, especially in the United States, differing points of view are played down by pluralism - everyone is an individual and everyone is right. Instead of respecting each others' views, people are indifferent to their fellow – 'You do it your way and I'll do it mine!' We should not be indifferent. We argue our position, but with respect and even love. The Talmud (Kiddushin 30b) explains a difficult verse in Numbers (Therefore it says in the Book of God's Wars: It was swept away in the rapids of the Arnon Brook. 21:14), that the military reference is a metaphor for those engaged in Torah study. Fight hard for your position, but don't leave the study hall until you've reconciled in love.
To buttress his position, Rav Amital tells a story about the Chevron Yeshiva in Givat Mordechai where he studied. The previous Rosh Yeshiva once said that the Zadikim are ruining my yeshiva!" Those 'tzadikkim' who refuse to argue with their colleagues because they feel "He is greater than me - after all who am I?!", lose sight of the deeper meaning to the machloket - combining and sifting all the differing opinions to form one harmonious truth. Rav Amital used to say that the most constructive form of learning is opposition. If you don't agree, argue! Don't just accept, otherwise you will never understand the din (law) from all its perspectives.
Another Yeshivat Har Etziyon Rebbe, Rav Moshe Lichtenstein, son of Reb Aharon, wrote an essay describing the prophet Shmuel's concerns about arranging for a king for Israel. He eschews the normal apprehensions, like copying the other nations or disrespect for the rule of God. Instead Rav Lichtenstein suggests, 'Shmuel's concern was that the governmental order and stability that the monarchy would bring would come at the cost of recognition of the heavenly kingdom, for a stable world tends to conceal the Creator from human eyes.' The prophet's major anxiety was over the establishment of stability in the land. Perfect stability over a long period of time could lead to a cessation of our overtures to God in prayer for help and sustenance. Later Jewish history showed that he little to worry about. Stability and tranquility are never of long duration in our national experience. For good or bad, Jewish history is rarely boring. But does this mean that Shmuel preferred chaos and anarchy? No way.
Shmuel understood that to establish truth we must continually search and scrape for it. Truth and the correct path must be sought constantly and are only found after struggle. But Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook explained (in Orot Ha-kodesh Ma'amar Ha-shalom, Ch. 11) that what we seek isn't stability which can lead to stagnation, but rather harmony. Harmony comes from the instability caused by differing opinions being reconciled in a spirit of accord and conciliation engendered by an atmosphere of mutual respect. We view the Patriarchs as representing different world views. Avraham was chesed (kindness) and Yitzchak was gevurah (courage). The dichotomy formed by these differing approaches to spirituality was reconciled by Ya'akov whose trait of tiferet (splendor) is so splendid because it achieves harmony. That's why the Midrash states that the Torah doesn't record Ya'akov's name in the genealogy of Korach in this week's parsha. Ya'akov was all about harmonizing discord; Korach stirred up dissonance for his benefit.
Now we can begin to understand the different kinds of arguments. They are characterized by our Sages as either for the sake of heaven or not. The Talmud states: Rabbi Ilaa said: The world exists only for the sake of one who holds himself back at a time of argument, as it is written: "He hangs the world on belima ( Job26:7, figuratively, on restraint, Chulin 89a)." This unusual word belima is viewed as a composite expression made up of two words meaning 'without anything'. The world depends for its continued existence on people who don't see themselves as at the center of all power and decisions. When the argument is about finding truth all is well; when it's about personalities we're in trouble.
Yes, we Jews like a good argument. However, we must choose carefully what to argue about. When we shake up the status quo to uncover a new idea, to discover truth, we've struggled for the sake of heaven and God. Remember, God's seal reads emet. Let's seek it vigorously.