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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Lets Have an Argument

By Rabbi Yaacov Haber

The Talmud (Sotah 37) gives us a glimpse of the internal politics among the tribes of Israel immediately preceding the splitting of the Red Sea.

The tribes were arguing for the privilege of being the first to jump into the Sea, especially the tribes of Benjamin and Judah. (This was before the Sea had even split!) Finally the tribe of Benjamin just jumped in. When the tribe of Judah saw this, they were so angry that they picked up stones and started throwing them at the Benjaminites.

For this, the Talmud continues, the tribe of Benjamin merited the honor of having the Holy Temple of Jerusalem built on their portion of the land of Israel. The tribe of Judah also merited an honor: that all the kings of Israel should come from them.

This is a strange story! We can understand why the tribe of Benjamin was rewarded for their enthusiasm to cross the Red Sea, but how can we understand Judah being rewarded for throwing stones?

The story is told about a group of children who were playing at a certain family’s home. One of the children suddenly incurred a serious accident, and had to be taken to hospital. The hostess had the unenviable task of breaking the news to the child’s mother, and decided to do it gradually. When the child’s mother came to the house, the hostess told her that one of the children had an accident. “That’s nothing,” she said, “children are always having accidents!” The hostess then said that it was a serious accident, and the child had to be taken to hospital. “Nu,” the mother replied, “we must have faith in G-d. He will help the child.” “But”, the hostess finally said, “it was your Yossele!” And the mother fainted.

As much as we can and should appreciate those who work for peace and an end to dissension in the Jewish community, it may some times be the case that their aloof attitude implies that the issue at hand doesn’t really affect them—it isn’t really THEIR issue, it isn’t really their Yossele!

Rav Moshe Feinstein once commented that in the old communities in Europe, people would fight for an aliya in the synagogue. They would become angry if they did not get their aliya! Today we are more polite and gentlemanly, and are willing to give up such an honor for the sake of peace. Rav Moshe’s comment was: “I don’t know which attitude is worse!”

In Pirkei Avot (5:20) we learn that an argument that is made for the sake of Heaven will last. What does this mean? The Bartenura interprets this as meaning that the arguers will survive! In the merit of taking such issues seriously and making them their own, they will succeed in their own lives.

In the evening service we pray that G-d spread a canopy of peace upon us, upon all of Israel, and upon Jerusalem. Why the special canopy for Jerusalem? The answer, given by the Vilna Gaon, has to do with the truth-seeking nature of the holy people of Jerusalem. Such people are not blase about the issues of the Torah, as people elsewhere might be. For such people, these issues evoke a high emotional response—these issues are their own Yossele!

This is why the tribe of Judah was rewarded for throwing stones, for they demonstrated that listening to the word of G-d was precious to them (as it was to Benjamin!)

The Talmud tells us that when two Torah scholars fight, although they may even appear to hate each other, at the end there will be love and peace between them. The reason is that their fighting is for the sake of Heaven. Let us pray that our intentions should always be for the sake of Heaven, so that true peace can prevail.

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