|The art of disagreeing without being disagreeable|
This week Putin repeated the lie. “Our goal is to de-Nazify Ukraine,” he told The Moscow Times. Goebbels, the Nazi Minister of Propaganda taught the world “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” Goebbels was merely paraphrasing his mentor, Adolf Hitler, who wrote in “Mein Kamf” in 1925, “In the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility. Most people are only comfortable telling small lies, and imagined others would be as uncomfortable as themselves perpetuating big ones. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation.”
Hitler, Goebbels and Putin spread lies. “Fake News” though, is not just a modern phenomenon. In our Torah portion this week, Korach challenges Moses’ authority and spreads lies about his leadership. Korach ferments a rebellion against the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Korach’s only goal is to seize power for personal aggrandizement. Eventually Korach’s nefarious intentions are revealed and his rebellion of slander collapses.
The Talmud derives one of Judaism’s most useful teachings about disagreement from this incident of Korach. “Disagreements for the sake of truth, like the disagreements between Hillel and Shamai, bring stability to the world. But, disagreements for the sake of ego and personal power, like the disagreements of Korach and his band, bring instability to the world.” (“Ethics of the Sages,” Avot 5:17)
Judaism never demands blind faith. We are encouraged to think critically and to question everything. The question is how to disagree without being disagreeable. Our tradition wants us to feel safe to disagree and to engage in a sincere search of understanding. But we are not to demonize others for personal gain.
Our tradition says “Every word of Torah is like multifaceted diamond, with seventy different facets and seventy different interpretations.” (Bamidbar Rabbah). Judaism does not seek to control our thoughts. Judaism does seek to guide our actions. We can and should disagree when it is sincere. But disagreements should be in a spirit of “Kavod,” mutual respect, like the disagreements of Hillel and Shamai that bring stability to the world. As important as what we say, is how we say it.
Maintaining respect while in disagreement, Judaism teaches, is essential for a community’s health.
This art of respectful disagreement is beautifully practiced weekly in our congregation’s Torah Study group on Saturday mornings. This warm, welcoming and accepting group is one of the best kept secrets of our Temple. I wish it was not such a secret. If you desire to become more connected to our community and more engaged with our members may I invite you to join our Torah study group by zoom. The price is free but the intellectual, spiritual and social benefits are priceless. Come study and grow with our community.
Rabbi David Wilfond