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Bereshit 5781 ~ Oct. 17, 2020

When we read the story of Creation, we see man in his own world attempting to define it. If one understands one's world, one can, hopefully, feel more comfortable in it. For example, we know that there is night, then morning, then night... The story of creation teaches us that there is an ordered pattern. We don't have to be frightened by night.  Our scientists, in their own technical ways, have been able to increase our own knowledge about our world. Yet, there are still certain things that we don't understand. I don't believe I will ever understand the concept of pain and suffering, and pandemics that alter a world in such a dramatic and negative way, despite all of what I have learned both in textual studies and acquired in life’s lessons.

The medieval commentator Abarbanel states that God was so meticulous in His creation that he placed the sun in just the right place. Any closer and we would always be too hot. Any colder and we would always be in a deep freeze. Imagine how people's personalities would be altered in such situations. Then again, perhaps the change in our world’s climate might explain the difference in people’s personalities and how they relate to one another both in relationship to significant issues that affect our world and the more mundane.  Perhaps the tones have changed in a negative fashion to angst as a direct result of the effects of global warming. 

It is not only those of us who are living through the current volatile realities in our nation and our world who are having difficulties understanding. God too has problems understanding certain things in our world. The story of Cain and Abel is but one example. Why does God turn to Cain after Cain murderers Abel and questions the whereabouts of Abel? The Ribono shel HaOlam, the Master of the Universe, was aware of the events that occurred! God was not only disappointed with man but was calling him out!  Yet, at that time, Cain was unaware of the concept of consequences, except in one theoretical lesson that God taught him about the difference in why Abel’s gift to God was acceptable and Cain’s was not.  Cain had not yet learned the concept of what it meant to be his “brother’s keeper.” He did not understand human relationships. But God does!\

The narratives of the Garden of Eden, the cunning ways of the serpent in the story of the Garden of Eden, the animosity that existed between Cain and his brother Abel, the not taking responsibility for actions on the part of both Adam and Eve and blaming of the other, all express the Torah’s understanding of humankind’s true nature. It is reflective of the difficulties that every generation unfortunately must face head on! One of the major lessons that we learn from our reading in the Torah this week is that God does not understand strife, animosity, and jealousy.

The rabbis teach us that there is a difference between a makhloket, a dispute, that is l’sheym shamayim, that is for the sake of heaven, and a makhloket, that pits one man against another.  A colleague writes: “the dialectic of makhloket l'shem shamayim is not focused on winning an argument, but rather understanding the logic of one's bar/bat p'lugta (someone they disagreed with) from the inside, finding the flaws or exceptions, and responding accordingly. The net result of mach'loket l'shem shamayim should be deeper understanding of (although not necessarily agreement with) the perspective of the other AND both parties refining and revising the structure and logic of their positions.”

The Talmud relates many incidences where the schools of Hillel and Shammai disagreed.  One of the most famous is whether on Chanukah we light one or eight candles on the first night of Chanukah. Another area of disagreement was in matters of marriage. They disagreed as to what should be the minimum appropriate monetary sum for a man to present to his wife and whether a woman’s status (divorce, age, etc.) permitted one to marry her. Yet the Talmud also informs us that despite the ramifications, “Beit Shammai did not refrain from marrying women from Beit Hillel, nor did Beit Hillel refrain from marrying women from Beit Shammai.” The Talmud goes on to teach, “This serves to teach you that they practiced affection and camaraderie between them, to fulfill that which is stated: “Love truth and peace” (Zechariah 8:19).”

We all understand that there are true differences of philosophy, values and fundamental understanding of our world that are creating the animosity and dispute in our lives. It saddens me when I learn that individuals no longer can be friends when they disagree on the issues that our nation and world are facing.  What was a makhloket l’sheym shamayim, has taken on a new dynamic. (There may also be something else hidden underneath beyond that current dispute that is creating that need for separation.) Needless to say, I am certain that God is totally dismayed by the fact that what is not a makhloket l’sheym shamayim in Queens and Brooklyn, but a matter of pikuach nefesh, protection of the life, has been disregarded by the ultra-Orthodox. Such wanton neglect has added a great deal of tension and hatred that has been redirected to the Jewish community in general in the greater NYC area. 

As we begin to read the Torah from its beginning this Shabbat, I would hope that we might all pray for a time when our world can return to how the schools of Shammai and Hillel co-existed despite their differences. That may be a pipe dream in the current reality of our nation and our world, but it is something we should never give up hope on.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi K

Sat, June 25 2022 26 Sivan 5782