Conflict is a natural part of human interaction. When ideology or religion gets involved, discussions have a tendency to get passionate and heated. We as Jews have a reputation for engaging in these types of discussions which frequently boil over to debates, arguments, or full- fledged fights with unfortunate consequences. So, are there any instructions on how we are to moderate these disagreements? How can we possibly engage with someone who has a fundamentally different understanding of our tradition?
In this week’s Parsha, Yitro, we have a possible solution. Chapter 20, which contains the Ten Commandments, opens with “And God spoke all these words…”
Why was it necessary to include the word “all” in this case? Would it not have been sufficient to have simply said “And God spoke these words?”
When the text makes use of the word כל, all, frequently it is expanding the context to make it as inclusive as possible, to perhaps include things that would normally be expected. The Talmud comments (in Tractate Hagigah 3b): The word “all” in this case comes to teach us that the words which God spoke include the explanations which were offered by the later rabbis – some who argued one way and other who argued the opposite way; some who said something was kosher and other who said it was non-kosher; some who permitted a certain deed and others who forbade it. All these words – even though some of the words directly contradict the others – they were all given by God at Mount Sinai, as it says in Torah: “And God spoke all these words…”
By explaining it in this manner, the rabbis are not only giving themselves the legitimacy to interpret and carry on the tradition, but giving later generations that authenticity as well. By directly linking themselves and us, to the momentous, foundational moment at Mount Sinai, they grant us permission as well as bestow the obligation to continue to renew the revelation in each and every subsequent generation. No one person or party has the monopoly on the interpretation, as all of us draw from the same divine source. In recognition of our divine spark, we are required to maintain the respect for the tradition and to engage in these discussions לשם שמים, for the sake, or glory, of Heaven [God].
This week, I pray that we always remember to listen to and engage with others who we may disagree with, always with respect and to hopefully build not only the relationship with them, but with God as well.
I want to also wish Jonathan Davies a Mazal Tov on the occasion of his Bar Mitzvah. Join me as we come together on Shabbat to celebrate with Jonathan and his family.