Getting at the Truth

I was privileged to participate in three hours of Torah study with the guidance of teachers from the Pardes Institute for Jewish Studies. The teaching was centered around a Pardes developed curriculum entitled “Makhloket Matters”. A Makhloket is a disagreement. Our Talmud captures many disagreements and arguments between Rabbis, some of which are never resolved. In other words, our Jewish tradition accepts the fact that disagreements are a part of life.

It reminded me of something a former Board Chair, Danny Shapira, would say when we came to a board meeting. He encouraged our board members to disagree but not to be disagreeable. He wanted to make sure we were focused on the issues and did not hurt each other personally. In Makhloket Matters, we learned about how the Talmud viewed disagreements and how to differentiate between good and bad ones. The Meiri, who lived in the late 13th and early 14th century in France, states:

And which is the mahloket (disagreement) that is for the sake of Heaven?

That of Hillel and Shammai, for one would rule on a matter and the other would disagree with him in order to understand the truth and not just for sake of provocation or a desire to win.

Recently I found myself in the midst of a several day disagreement with a longtime colleague and friend from out of town. Through the course of our exchange of emails, we failed to get anywhere other than more entrenched in our views. As this Torah study was happening concurrently, I was forced to evaluate our interaction from this very Jewish perspective and came to the conclusion that there were, in fact, many key elements in which we had agreement. I had gotten distracted by my intent to win, losing the goal of deeper understanding.

I know I state the obvious when I share that we live in a highly charged, partisan, and deeply politicized time. We have such divisions within our own Jewish community. Yet, we must remember to enter the necessary conversations with an orientation of truth rather than one of dominance. It was hard but necessary for me to email my colleague and put the learning of the Meiri into action. In truth, we still aren’t at a point of agreement, but now we better respect each other’s differences. I fervently hope that as we all enter 5782 with a “clean slate”, the differences of opinion throughout our community do not prevent us from focusing on what we should be trying to accomplish through valid disagreements and strong debates. Through those, we can be the best community possible.

Between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur we ask our fellow human beings for forgiveness for the things we knowingly and unknowingly did to hurt them this past year. I am not one for New Year’s resolutions. However, as we enter 5782, I do plan to strive that all my disagreements are for “the sake of heaven” in the hope that I will hurt less people this year. And, I apologize for those moments this past year when I was not successful in avoiding being disagreeable.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and an easy but extremely meaningful fast next week. G’mar Chatimah Tova. Go Steelers!

Jeff Finkelstein

President & CEO

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