Child: "But, why can't I ... (fill in the blank)?"
Parent: "Because I said no. No means NO."
At some point, the above argument is pretty much guaranteed to happen in most homes, but the parent/child argument actually starts long before this. The infant who cries instead of falling asleep; the toddler who refuses the bottle; the young child who pushes away something on the plate; are all arguments that take place before a child leaves the home and becomes an adult. Arguing must be part of our DNA.
Even outside the home, a child might be labeled "argumentative" because he doesn't want to comply with a teacher's instructions. Enter the workplace, and the "argumentative" child might act the same way toward supervision. Neighbors argue with each other. Spouses argue with each other. And then, there are the arguments over political viewpoints. I'll leave those arguments to the esteemed columnists of this newspaper!
In the narrative of our Hebrew Bible, arguments are a regular occurrence. Often, they are directed at God. In the Book of Genesis, Abraham finds out that God intends to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gamorrah, home to his nephew, Lot and his family. Abraham argues and ultimately bargains with God and ultimately saves his nephew.
In the Midrash, which are Rabbinic tales that expound on Biblical verse, even Moses argues with God. He knows that he will not be allowed to cross over the River Jordan. The rabbis imagine Moses pleading with God to allow him to enter the Promised Land, even though he knows the ultimate answer.
But perhaps one of the most compelling instances of argument comes from the Book of Numbers, with the rebellion of Korach and his followers. Korach no longer wishes to follow Moses' leadership and wants to be leader instead, even though God speaks to Moses and not to Korach.
So Korach brings together a group of disgruntled Israelites and leads a rebellion against Moses and Aaron. The goal of the revolt is not to better serve the people. Korach leads it because he wants to have the mantle of leadership for himself.
In Judaism, rebelling does not have a negative connotation. Actually, rebellion for the correct reason is heralded. Almost 2,000 years ago, the schools of Hillel and Shammai set forth the concept of machloket l'shem shamayim, the disagreement for the sake of heaven. The two schools, arguing about Jewish law, did not argue to improve their own lives but rather to help other Jews live better under the law. Their intent was correct.
Today our world is full of argument. We hear opposing forces, speaking to each other, even shouting to each other, usually without listening to each other. Can we continue to exist in our world if we are unable to hear and respectfully argue? Can we look at arguments and honestly ask if they are "for the sake of heaven," literally, for the good of all humankind? If we can't find a way to argue with respect, we could end up as Korach and his followers. What happened to them? Look it up.
Samuel Radwine is the cantor for Congregation Etz Chaim in Bentonville and cantor emeritus of Congregation New Tamid of South Bay in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.
NAN Religion on 01/12/2019
Print Headline: Positive arguments matter