Arguments and Peace



   
    August 2007            
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Arguing for Peace, Arguing and Peace

By Avi Lazerson

Rabbi Elazar said in the name of Rabbi Chaninah, "Torah scholars increase peace in the world…" This statement is included in most prayer books near the end of the morning services. It sounds simple enough, we say it fast enough, but if we reflect on the thought which is imbedded here, that Torah Scholars increase peace in the world, and compare it to the reality, we will see something different; especially when we deal with the rabbis of the Talmud, we will realize that something is amiss.

For those of us who have experienced the pleasure of Talmud study, the ancient pages of the gemora will testify page after page, tractate after tractate, that the Talmud's chief accomplishment was the preservation of the arguments of the rabbis. It is rare indeed to find a page in the Talmud where there is total agreement or consensus amongst the rabbis in any matter, or at least a page devoid of argument. Since this is the case, how is it possible that Torah scholars who perpetually engage their keen intellect and logic in argumentative disagreement can bring peace to the world? Do we not have enough dissention and strife in the world? Would not the world be a much better place if there was less argument and more co-operation? So how can it be that these quarrelsome Torah scholars can bring peace into the world?

* * *

To reach an understanding, you must realize that there are really two types of arguments, or perhaps two different types of persons who engage in arguments.

As an example, one time I worked in a gigantic industrial complex that had thousands of employees. We were divided into small groups and each group had its manager and its particular tasks. There were many arguments between the various managers which ended up in 'back stabbing.' Managers would cruelly criticize other managers in order to diminish their standing in the eyes of the employees. This led employees to bicker and make light of other employees.

We even had 'back stabbing' in our own group where one employee would speak to other employees behind the back of a fellow group member trying to destroy his reputation as a worker. Face to face the two workers would smile as if they were friends, but behind the back, they were out to get the other.

There was even one fellow who confided that he was really Jewish. We thought that he was a gentile. He said that he changed his name and did not want to be known as Jewish. He would call in sick on Yom Kippur but he worked the other Jewish holidays. He told me which of my 'friends' would sound off against Jews behind my back.

Clearly these arguments did nothing to bring peace into the world. Just the opposite, it caused a break down in smooth production in the plant and eventually the upper management had to step in to make costly staff changes to insure that the plant would continue to operate at a profit.

If this is the outcome of arguments, then what is Rabbi Elazar telling us? What good are all the arguments of the Torah scholars if the end result is chaos?

The truth, however, is different. Even though the Torah sages argued endlessly, they never descended into personality degradation of their opponent. Their arguments were for the sole purpose of arriving at the truth; they never practiced defamation of character. Just the opposite was true! Since they knew that the other rabbi was only motivated to argument in order to arrive at the truth, they had respect for him and his opinion, even though they disagreed.

Unfortunately the arguments that we see in the world are not for the sake of arriving at the truth or a better way of doing something, but rather their arguments are vehicles to promote their own sick egos. He person wants to win the argument because he feels that victory enhances his 'image'. This of course will never bring any one closer to a better way of doing something, and for certain, will not bring anyone to a better understanding of anything.

Arguments like this are self-destructive; nothing is accomplished except the crushing of one person's ego and the elevation of another's ego.

* * *

When I was a young man, I took off several years from work to learn in a Yeshiva. There we spent much time in learning the various arguments in the Talmud. The head rabbi was a gentle man and he invited another rabbi to give us a lesson in the tractate in which we had spent much time. When the young rabbi began to lecture us, he made a statement which the head rabbi objected to and an argument ensued. The entire lesson became one long argument which took up the entire time that was to be dedicated to the lesson.

The next day the young rabbi re-appeared and began the lesson. Again the head rabbi began to object and the next thing we knew there was an entire hour which was nothing but a two-way argument between the young rabbi and the head rabbi. We students just sat, bored, not understanding anything.

The third day the young rabbi came and began again to lecture. The head rabbi objected and they spent the entire hour in a prolonged argument. At the end of the day I left together with the head rabbi and asked him frankly why, if he does not like this young rabbi, does he invite him to come back?

The head rabbi answered me quite frankly, "Not like the young rabbi? G-d forbid!" He told me that he thinks the world of him, he is an outstanding scholar and a person of meticulous character; but he explained to me that he disagreed with him in the basic understanding of the texts.

Then I realized that it is possible to argue in a positive manner, just as it is possible to argue in a derisive manner. That is what Rabbi Elazer is telling us. It is only the Torah scholars who can bring peace into the world, since it is only they who can strive for truth while respecting each other.

This is a very important lesson for us to enhance our lives. It may not be possible to escape from the petty 'back stabbing' that takes place at the office, but at least when we are with our friends and loved ones; we can make every effort to not drag personalities into the argument. Only in this manner will we succeed in bring peace not only into the world, but also into our own individual lives.

~~~~~~~

from the August 2007 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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