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Within Torah, Disagreement Can Breed Love

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This past week, as is often the custom, we made a siyum to mark the Shloshim, the thirty day anniversary, of the passing of my mother-in-law, Rebbetzin Gitel Rosensweig of Kitchener and Toronto. Various individuals joined together to complete the study of the entire Mishna which we then marked with the traditional recitations that accompany a siyum and a seudat mitzvah, a meal in honor of this mitzvah.

I was the one actually called upon do the siyum, that is to present the final teaching of the Mishna that completed the siyum and recite the traditional recitations. This final teaching was from the final mishna in Tractate Yuktzin, the last tractate of the entire Mishna. It is a thought – both as a memorial for my mother-in-law and in its own right -- I also wanted to share with this blog.
 
The Mishna reads:
 
Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta said: God did not find a vessel strong enough to hold the blessing for Israel except for peace, as it is stated (Tehillim 29:11): “God gives strength to his nation; God blesses His nation with peace.”
 
The simple point of the mishna would seem to be straightforward. Any blessing to be truly effective must be accompanied by a peaceful environment. The commentators, though, find this declaration to be a most significant closing statement of the Mishna, for the entire work, in fact the whole study of Talmud, is dominated by disputes between scholars on matters of Torah law and thought. One would think that such arguments would challenge peace, as disagreement often leads to conflict. The commentators thus see in this concluding statement about peace an important insight regarding Talmudic disputes. Rather than fostering conflict, disagreement within Torah actually accomplishments the opposite, fostering true peace. God’s blessings to Israel demand peace and this is exactly what the study of the Mishna accomplishes. The disagreements within Torah emerging from such study foster peace.
 
The Babylonian Talmud in Tractate Kiddusin 30b actually makes an explicit statement in this regard.
 
Rabbi Chiya bar Abba said: A father and a son, a teacher and his student, involved in Torah study together in one place, can initially become enemies of each other [due to their disagreements and arguments] but they do not leave from this place until they become devoted friends one to the other, as Scripture teaches us…in the end of Torah study there will be love.
 
This is not the nature of disputes in general; in fact, it is not the way of the vast majority of disagreements. Generally we have issues in our relationships with those with whom we disagree and argue. What is it about Torah disagreements that actually yields love between the disputants. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein explains that it is because there is a greater conviction that joins together these combatants and overrides their differences. They may disagree, in their respective conclusions, on what the Torah Law specifically does demand or the Torah thought specifically maintains but they are in agreement in their desire to know the truth and find God’s Will. They share the desire to know what is right. It is this recognition of this shared desire that develops their love for each other. If this value exists and overrides the specifics of the differing viewpoints, peace and love is the natural result. If, however, it does not exist, if the specifics of the viewpoint dominate and override, a goal of connection cannot be reached. (To read more on this topic of tolerance within Torah, please download my article Tolerance, Nishma Introspection 5760-3.)
 
There are many stories within our Torah literature of the remarkable close relationships between scholars of divergent viewpoints. When we read of the disagreements in thought and law between many such individuals, we can be literally shocked to find that they were still close friends with deep admiration, affection and mutual respect for each other. One such story is found in the Introduction to Nekudat Hakesef by Rabbi Shabtai HaKohein (also known by his more famous work, the Shach) where he relates his initial meeting with Rabbi Dovid HaLevi, more known by his work, the Taz.
 
As the addendums to the story relate, when the townsfolk of the city in which the Taz was the Rabbi heard that the Shach happened to be visiting for that Shabbat, they were greatly concerned that their Rabbi would be hurt and offended by the presence of this individual who was already known for his critiques of some of their Rabbi’s commentaries. While they were still hospitable to their guest, illustrious in his own merit, they nonetheless did attempt to hide the knowledge of his presence from their Rabbi. This, however, was to no avail; the Taz soon heard that the Shach was in town. So what did the Taz do? He immediately went to where the Shach was staying and insisted that the Shach stay with him for the remainder of the visit. And, as the Shach writes, the Taz, throughout the visit, treated him with the utmost respect -- to the point that the Taz kissed the Shach on the latter’s forehead, noting that there was such joy in the time they spent together. Did they argue? I am sure. But they fully shared the goal of Torah understanding – and this bonded them in the most powerful way. This is how, as an outcome of true diligence in Torah study, disagreement can actually breed love.
 
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Do honest debates about Torah have the potential to bring people close? Please comment below to share.
 
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