Skip to content

Parashat Ha’azinu 5776 — 09/23/2015

Parashat Ha’azinu 5776 — 09/23/2015

He set up the borders of the nations, corresponding to the number if Israel’s children (32:8)

We are in the midst of a short break between the High Holy Days and Sukkot.  We have, hopefully, reflected carefully on our failings and shortcomings in the past year, and resolved to make amends – either by correcting any wrongs we have committed, or at least by creating/seeking out strategies to assure that we won’t make the same mistake again.

One mistake that we, as a people, have been making almost since the beginning of our existence, is internal controversy.  Rav Kook explains, based on the above-quoted verse in this week’s parashah:

All of the talents that can be found among the nations of the world also exist in the “number” – that is, in the diversity – of the Jewish people.  Historically, we have seen that Jews were always at the forefront of a remarkably diverse range of professions and disciplines.

Unfortunately, Rav Kook continues:

The multi-talented diversity of the Jewish people, however, has a downside; it makes them more prone to internal friction and conflict.  Each talent strives to express itself fully, often at the expense of other talents… When a nation is blessed with great talents, it has a greater potential for internal strife.

We have here the classic problem in the relationship between the individual and society.  The individual wants to grow and evolve, without any boundaries.  The society also needs to grow and evolve, but doing so requires putting boundaries on the individual, for if a society is going to function, then the individuals who make up that society have to function harmoniously together, and this may require some sacrifice on the part of the individual.  On the other hand, in John Donne’s words, “No man is an island, entire of itself.”  We are all shaped by our society, educated by our society, and provided with a myriad of resources by our society.  If society is torn apart by conflict and factionalism, everyone suffers.

Our Sages teach in Pirke Avot (5:20):

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? This is a debate between Hillel and Shammai. What is a dispute not for the sake of Heaven? This is the dispute of Korach and his assembly.

It is instructive to note the lack of parallelism in the second part of the Mishnah.  A dispute for the sake of Heaven is one where neither side is trying to defeat the other, rather each is a foil for the other in the quest for Truth.  When the academies of Hillel and Shammai debated one another, it was over the correct understanding of Scripture; it is perfectly natural that different people will have different perspectives on Scripture.  Scripture, after all, is the blueprint of creation according to our tradition, and our different temperaments and life experiences will lead us to view creation from different angles.  As long as the discussion is carried on with mutual respect, a synthesis can come from the divergent views, which will be closer to the truth than either one of them individually.

On the other side, we would expect to find “the dispute of Korach and Moses.”  After all, wasn’t it Moshe Rabbenu whom Korach challenged?  Our Rabbis explain that actually Moshe Rabbeinu was acting from the transcendent level, and was completely uninvolved with any dispute with anyone!  Korach approached with his agenda, and the rest of the rebel band each approached with his own agenda.  Their dispute was internal, because it focused on personal self-aggrandizement, not truth.

Of course when Gd’s reality is right out in the open, then disputes that are born in impurity are exposed pretty quickly.  Nowadays we have to be a lot more careful.  Many, if not all of us have been part of some group or organization that has been torn apart by some argument or feud, generally over something terribly petty.  All too often it is a family that is destroyed.  And always, there is a perfectly good and holy rationale on either side.  It is said that the most successful trick of our evil inclination is not to convince us to sin, but to convince us that the sin is a mitzvah.  Whenever we are getting involved in a controversy, it is vital for our spiritual and emotional health to step back, take a deep breath, and carefully examine our motivations.  If there is any trace of ego involved, you can be pretty sure that this is not something you want to be involved in.  And unless you are exceptionally pure, you can be pretty sure that your ego is, in fact, involved.

“Do not be overly righteous, nor overly wise – why destroy yourself?”  (Kohelet 7:16).  Indeed, why should we destroy ourselves, those we love, and the institutions we cherish.  Let’s all put our egos aside and work for the common good.  Then we can all live long and prosper!  A joyous Sukkot to all!