“Any dispute which is for the sake of Heaven will ultimately endure, and one which is not for the sake of Heaven will not ultimately endure. What is a dispute for the sake of Heaven?” Pirke Avot Chapter 5, Mishna 20
In one of his many books, psychologist M. Scott Peck comments that there are only two reasons for marriage, one being the emotional friction between partners. It is, he wrote, through the process of two individuals navigating a life together, negotiating their differences, learning to listen to one another when they disagree and finding a need to compromise, that each partner in a marriage pushes the other partner to grow.
Two thousand years ago the rabbis of the Talmud already understood this lesson. That is why discussions and debates in the Talmud are recorded in detail. That is why we find pairings of opposing teachers such as Shammai and Avtalion and Hillel and Shammai, as well as their disciples, arguing and debating with one another. The Talmud actually records over 300 differences of opinion between Beit Hillel (the House of Hillel) and Beit Shammai (the House of Shammai). (It is an interesting aside that Hillel’s rulings were often based on concern for the welfare of the individual and the weight of Jewish tradition tended to side with Hillel’s opinion. But I digress…)
The rabbis of the Talmud understood that the richness of communal life comes not from only celebrating all that we share but also by highlighting the differences between us. It is through working to resolve such conflicts that learning and growth emerge.
That tradition continues to this day. In Hebrew, a synagogue is referred to as a Kehillah Kedoshah – a Holy Community. Having inherited the tradition of Talmudic debate, it is clear that that holiness comes not from our being in lockstep with one another but from our learning to listen, debate and learn with and from one another. The same emotional friction that is one of M. Scott Peck’s reasons for marriage is key to what it means to be a Holy Congregation. We do not and will not always agree with one another. And we shouldn’t. It is why our Senior Staff meetings and our monthly Board of Trustees meetings are often filled with lengthy discussion on a host of topics. Through listening and arguing with one another, we learn as individuals and, in most cases, come to far more enlightened decisions than we might otherwise achieve.
In a world of Facebook unfriending, however, I fear we have forgotten that navigating our differences is a key part of building community. Too often we take offense when someone shares an opinion that differs from ours. When we do, we cut off the potential learning that can take place as we build community. We have genuine differences of opinion in our community. And we should. For that is how we learn from one another and grow.
In recent months I have received a few calls and emails from people who took issue with something I did or said. A number of those have resulted in long conversations for which I am truly grateful. We may not have come to an agreement, but I know for myself (I will not speak for those with whom I spoke) those conversations have helped me understand and appreciate a different perspective.
I have, however, come to realize in recent months that Temple Bulletins and congregational emails are one-sided statements that do not invite conversation and debate. But they should invite discussion and debate. They must. Therefore, going forward I will be posting my Bulletin articles and any of my congregational emails to the Rabbi’s Blog. They will appear there and push to our temple website. I invite you to comment on those posts. Agree. Disagree. Discuss. Engage. But do so respectfully. Let us model the rich tradition of Talmudic discourse and, in the process, bring additional holiness to our community.