13 Nissan 5779 / Thursday, April 18, 2019 | Torah Reading: Pesach
 
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Why is it so Hard to Agree?    

Why is it so Hard to Agree?



Our Sages compare facial discrepancies to differences in the way we view the world...

 



Our Sages compare facial discrepancies to differences in the way we view the world. Wouldn't it have been enough to state that our opinions aren’t similar? Just like we're not bothered when someone looks different from us, we should not be bothered if they have a different opinion or attitude.
 
 
Uniqueness
 
God created each human being to be unique, completely different from every other human being. Our Sages emphasize our individualistic nature, that each of us is an entire world unto ourselves, and not just a miniscule fraction of humanity.
 
“This demonstrates the greatness of the Creator. For when a man mints coins from the same mold, each one is an exact duplicate of the other. But when God created man, He created them all from the same ‘mold’ with which he made Adam HaRishon (Adam, the first man), and yet each person is totally unique. Therefore, each and every one of us must proclaim, ‘The world was created for my sake’” (Sanhedrin 37a).
 
“The uniqueness of creation was designed to enable every person to fulfill his distinct purpose, a purpose that no one else is meant to fulfill. This individuality in which man was created is one of the ways his soul, which was created in the ‘image of God,’ is expressed. Just as God is One and Unique, so too man, who was created in His image, is one and unique. Nothing in the entire universe resembles man” (Mararal in Derech Chaim, on Pirkei Avot, 3:14).
 
The uniqueness of our souls finds expression in our physical body, for example, in its distinctive physical marks. No two fingerprints or hair components are exactly alike.
 
The Benefits of our Individuality
 
From a spiritual viewpoint, this individuality helps us to understand that we each have an exclusive role in God’s world, and that no one else can fulfill that purpose.
 
The Sages point out different benefits to physical differences. For example, because no two people are exactly alike, a husband or wife will not confuse his or her spouse with another. Also, since everyone is different, people find different ways to make a living. Therefore, not everyone is competing in the same field, and each person can find a suitable niche (Avot D’Rebbe Natan, Perek 7:1).
 
Because we all have different perspectives and thought processes, God gave the Torah to six hundred thousand men, so that there would be a complete representation of all the personality types at the time of kabbalat haTorah—the acceptance of the Torah.
 
The Torah itself can be understood in 600,000 different nuances of understanding, and for that reason each one of us prays that God should “give us our portion in Your Torah.” In other words, we ask God to grant us our unique portion in understanding His Torah, a unique perspective that is exclusively ours.
 
Because we are so different, we relate to our surroundings differently. We react differently, different things our important to us and we have different needs.
 
Our individual perspectives shape our individual relationship with the Creator. For this reason, in the tefillat shemonei esreh—the eighteen Silent Benedictions, or Amida—we say: “Elokei Avraham, Elokei Yitzchak, V’Elokei Yaakov—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” It would have been sufficient to say: “Elokei Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” We repeat God's name—Elokei—before of each of the Patriarchs to demonstrate that each of them revealed a unique approach to showing appreciation to the Creator to the world.
 
The Rambam (Maimonides, Moreh Nevuchim—The Guide for the Perplexed) terms man as medaber, capable of speech, and points out that man stands far above the other three realms, of mineral, vegetable, and animal. Not only is man above the mineral, vegetable and animal, he has access to the powers inherent in the levels below him. Therefore, man includes the unique powers of the leopard, eagle etc.
 
“Judah the son of Teima would say: Be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, fleeting as a deer and mighty as a lion to do the will of your Father in Heaven” (Pirkei Avot 5,20). Our Sages are guiding us, saying: “Actualize all the latent powers within you that resemble the faculties of the lion, leopard, and eagle, to do the will of your Father in Heaven.”
 
Different Points of View
 
As a result of our uniqueness, we have different points of view, which sometimes cause difficulties in coming to agreement. Every argument has its roots in different perspective of looking at the world. But instead of realizing that an argument is a result of a different point of view, people assume that they are arguing about facts.
 
A husband and wife have different perspectives on what's important in the marriage. First of all, there is the basic difference in gender. In addition, each partner is responsible for a different aspect of the family. Should they purchase a new oven or a new computer? A refrigerator or fixing the car?  
 
Couples have difficulty convincing their partner because each person sees the facts differently. Therefore the Mishna says, “Don’t judge your fellow man until you stand in his place" (Pirkei Avot, Perek 2:4). The Steipler Rav adds that even if you’ve experienced a similar life experience, you are still neither capable nor permitted to judge your fellow man.
 
Emotional Difficulty
 
Our individuality is a source of great pleasure. At the same time, we're pained that others' don't view things the way we do. We tend to feel threatened by it, and unconsciously think that when people view the world differently than us, they assume that we  do not know how to think straight.
 
The Talmud emphasizes the differences between people: “Just as their faces are different, so too their opinions are different.” Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Kotzk asks: Why did the Sages compare our facial discrepancies to differences in the way we view the world? Wouldn't it have been enough to state that our opinions aren’t similar? He explained that just like we're not bothered when someone looks different from us, we should not be bothered if their opinion or attitude is different from ours.
 
Unfortunately, a major factor in accepting another's point of view is contingent on the strength of our relationship with that person. This holds true with social relationships, political relationships, and even economic relationships. It also holds true in family relationships. Therefore, the only way to "win an argument" is to maintain a close and friendly relationship.
 
***
 
The Talmud teaches us that Torah scholars are aware that competitive instincts can affect their thought processes, and pray that God will assist them in overcoming the bias created by competition and jealousy, as it states, "What should a man say upon entering the study hall? May it be Your Will, my God, that I will not err in my study nor fail in a matter of halacha—Jewish law, [with the result] that my colleagues will laugh at me. I should not say about a matter that is impure that it’s pure, or about a matter that is pure that it’s impure. And may my colleagues also not fail in a matter of halacha, [with the result] that I would laugh at them” (Brachot 28).
 
In his introduction to Tiferet Yisrael, the Maharal explains, “Even a talmid chacham tends to laugh when he sees someone make a mistake. People are naturally happy when they have an advantage over someone else. Therefore we pray that we will not follow our nature and laugh when our fellow man makes a mistake.”
 
The Maharal adds: “If this is so concerning those who are working on their spiritual perfection, then it applies much more so in our imperfect generation, when everyone is critical of his fellow man’s words…”
 
(Reprinted with permission from “HaBayit HaYehudi” ("What did you say?") — Guidance for Communication in Family and Society)




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