Managing Dispute — Tisha B’Av 2010
Tisha B’Av, 5770/2010 Sarah Yehudit Schneider
Everyone knows that Tisha B’Av (the 9th of Av) is the lowest point of the Jewish calendar. HaShem’s protective aura thins, and we grow vulnerable to error and to harm. The downward tug of this time is ancient, and nearly impossible to resist. It started when Essav’s guardian angel attacked Yaakov on this day and dislocated his hip.1 Since the hip area includes the generative triad (comprised of the three sefirot: netzach, hod, yesod) kabbala interprets this as an impurifying of the generations to come. The angel could not penetrate Yaakov’s protective aura, says R. Tsadok, but it was able to contaminate the seed-stock of the Jewish people with a smudge of its narcissistic filth.2,3
In the Torah’s lexicon of symbols, Essav is the forbear of Amalek, Israel’s archenemy—the fearsome embodiment of unrepentant evil.4 Every other creature has at least a sliver of soul, a ray of God that dwells within and sustains its life. Yet these progeny of Essav are hollow men, who absorb their life juice through their skin.5 They feed off the sparks that fly from the clashing of matter and psyches in conflict. They are chronic provocateurs, for their survival requires exactly this. If conflict would cease, so would they, for they have no inner wellspring from which to draw life. These empty creatures with a void at their core are the spiritual offspring of Amalek. Like viral spores they float through history, invisible, until they find a host who is susceptible to their hate-filled contagion.6
Hitler and his Nazi thugs are textbook specimens of the Amalekian profile which features the following traits:
– extreme narcissism and grandiosity (7.אני אמלוך.8 כחי ועוצם ידי)
– causeless hatred (9אל אחר שאין לו דעת אסתרס…)
– capacity for unconscionable cruelty (מי שיש בו ואכזריות… חוששין לו ביותר…10)
– aspiration to supplant G-d, and rule the world in His stead. (12ולית דיין.)
The Jewish I-center views Amalek as the polar opposite other—the one who possesses all the traits that we, as a people, revile. Yet it is equally true (from the teaching above) that we also carry a smidgen of Amalekian stain as descendents of Yaakov’s (otherwise) holy seed.
Perhaps this is why our conflicts in this country often deteriorate into name-calling, with the N-word at the top of the list. We can’t seem to quarrel about matters close to heart without reducing the other to an irredeemable louse. It is most telling that these nazi accusations go both ways. You are a nazi because you dare to impose secular values above God’s law. And you are a nazi because of your racism which amounts to causeless hatred toward people of different descent. You are a nazi because you follow orders like a robot without questioning their ethics and relevance to the modern world. And you are nazi for betraying the Jewish people by providing ammunition to their detractors. And you are a nazi for creating an apartheid Jewish state. And so it goes, on and on and on.
If it is true that causeless hatred prompted the Temple’s demise and only its opposite can save us…then we have got to find another way to disagree among ourselves. Wherever we stand on the political spectrum, the most nazi-like behavior is to reduce our adversary to his most disagreeable feature, fixate on that point alone, and then brand him a loathsome nazi with a clear conscience, for in our narrow vision he shrinks to only that.
And this is what distinguishes a political frame from a spiritual one. In politics the power of one’s position comes from proving that there is not one shred of truth on the other side—you are completely wrong, and I am completely right. This has its pros and cons. On the pro side, its (illusion of) certainty fires passion and reduces anxiety. On the con side, it is just not true, for it is the nature of our complex world that real truth is never purely black and white. There is always a sliver of legitimacy to the other side.
And that is Judaism’s chidush to the world. Centuries before the word, “paradox” appeared in the English language, the Talmud asserted the (higher) truth of paradox as the rectified model for approaching dispute.13 “These and these [which totally contradict them], are both words of the living G-d…Yet in practical matters we follow the ruling of X.”14
This is the Talmud’s simple approach to conflict: (1) Identify the truth of both sides. (2) After exploring the full range of perspectives and finding the merit in each—only then is it time to pick the best one to guide the action at hand. The Talmud’s approach honors truth, promotes peace and stretches the mind. But it also produces anxiety—decisions are harder when options are perceived as shades of gray instead of clearly demarcated blacks and whites.
You might argue that I am taking the Talmud’s teaching out of context—that it only accorded the status of “G-d’s truth” to the words of a Torah scholar. You might argue that it never intended to extend this principle to the simple, heretical (and ignorant) masses. And you might be technically correct.
Yet, along with the Torah of ink on parchment there is also the Torah of souls. Just as there are 600,000 letters of the written Torah, so are there 600,000 root souls in the spiritual community of Israel.15 Each individual that comes into the world embodies some unique piece of one of these sixty myriad letters. And so, says R. Tsadok,16 just as there is a scroll of ink on parchment, so is there a scroll of souls that includes the entire unfolding of generations. The sum-total of the soul-sparks of Israel comprise a single and complete Torah…the real Torah…the one that HaShem studies on His side of the heavenly mechitza.17 And just as “there is no truth that is not Torah,”18 so there is no Torah that is not holding some deep and eternal truth. That applies to the Torah on parchment as well as the Torah of souls, which means there is always some truth, perhaps very hidden, in the perspective of every Jew. That doesn’t mean you have to accept it as your own guiding light. But it does mean (if the Talmud be our guide) that you must search it out, appreciate its point, and then you can decide against it, if it doesn’t accord with the priorities of your view of the world.
Let us draw from the tools of our tradition and apply the Talmud’s model to the interpersonal challenges of our time. Let us take our teachings out of the books and into the streets, households and (batei) kenesset. If we want to remove the smidgen of Amalek from our souls, we must learn to respectfully disagree. HaShem should grant us the ears to hear the “words of the living G-d” as they radiate from each letter of His precious Torah of souls. And let the peace that is born from this practice mach’zik the brocha19 of mashiach, our fasting should turn to feasting and we should celebrate redemption, NOW.
Zohar 1:170b; R. Tsadok Hokohen, Kometz Mincha, (Yahadut, Bnei Brak, 5735 / 1975), p. 71-78 (*74); R. Natan Sternholz of Beslov, Likutey Halachoth, Orach Chaim, Hilchoth Hodayah 6:25.
2 R. Tsadok Hokohen, ibid.
3 Gen. 36:1 identifies Essav with Edom, and Gen. 36:31-39 describes the “kings that ruled in Edom before there was a king to the children of Israel.” R. Isaac Luria (Ari) reads this passage as hinting to the seven primordial universes created and destroyed before our own, or eighth in the sequence. These first seven kings (or primordial worlds) were riddled with narcissism and shared a lust to rule the world (“ani emlokh”). Consequently, in kabbala, Edom becomes synonymous with power-lust and narcissism.
4 Gen. 36:12.
5 Leshem, HDOH, chelek 2, drush 4, anaf 18, siman 7.
6 R. Tsadok HaKohen, Yisrael Kedoshim, chapter 8 (p. 97, first edition).
7 Deut. 8:17.
8 Kings 1:1:5. The sefira of daat is the place where empathy originates, and Kabbala explains that “the other god, is castrated, and has no daat (ie no capacity for true empathy).
9 Zohar 2:103a; Ari, Eytz Chayim, shaar 48, perek 2; Gra, Sifra d’Tsniuta, perek 3,4.
10 שו”ע אבן העזר סימן ב, TB Yevamot 78b-79a.
11 BR 26:6.
12 BR 26:6.
13 The word, paradoxus is of Greek origin, but its original meaning was “something surprising and unexpected.”
14 TB Eruvin 13b
15 Zohar Chadash 74d, Megalla Amukoth 186. This count includes the subletters (for example, that letter alef is built from two yuds and a vav. Otherwise, there are 304, 805 letters in the Torah.
16 ר’ צדק הכהן, צדקת הצדיק אות קצ”ו (סוף).
17 ר, שלמה עליאשאוו, ספר הכללים, כלל ח”י ענף י’ סימן ג’ אות י”ב.
18 TY RH 3:8.
19 Mishna, Uktzin 3:12. “R. Simeon b. Halafta said: the Blessed Holy One found no vessel that could grasp and contain blessing for Israel save that of peace, as it is written: the Lord will give strength unto his people; the Lord will bless his people with peace.”