Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Baruch Dayan HaEmet

Rav Elyashiv has passed away. This is a tremendous loss for the Jewish people. May his death be an atonement for our nation.

המקום ינחם אותנו בתוך שאר אבלי ציון וירושלים.

May God comfort us, amongst all those who mourn Zion and Jerusalem.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Peace and Conflict

הנני נותן לו את בריתי שלום- God grants the special covenant of peace to Pinchas. This is a special kind of peace, the peace of Aharon the high priest, as evidenced by the fact that this covenant brings Pinchas into the special family of Kohanim. Hillel and Shammai implore us all to be such students of Aharon – chasing peace. What kind of peace can be so special, so powerful, as to be a foundational attribute of the holiest of men? What is it that makes it an appropriate corollary, that once the gift of peace is bestowed, it is naturally followed by the gift of priesthood?
Rav Kook writes in Ein Ayah that there are two conceptions of peace. The first is selfish: opposing viewpoints recognize that the best way for each to achieve the most desirable general result is to come together in unity. Two people, two groups, two nations have competing goals. These goals draw them into conflict time and again. After a while, each side recognizes that in order to further its goal most successfully, it is desirable to end the open hostility and come to an agreement with the opposing side. This is not true unity, for in it, each side maintains that their personal gratification is the most important goal. The perceived unity is of a social-contractual nature. Peace is attained often by denying differences and highlighting commonality. The post-modern concept of “narrative” allows us to pay lip service to opposing viewpoints, but in reality, it subterfuges the truth or falsehood of these viewpoints, positing instead that all positions have value as formative of opinions and principles, and we must therefore appreciate them all. So often peace-making is less about truly finding truth and bringing both sides to an appreciation of justice, but rather the practical path of least resistance - the road-map of the pragmatist. And yet, despite these weaknesses, sometimes, this is the best we can hope for.
However, there is a deeper kind of peace. When two sides recognize a common set of fundamental beliefs, and both set as their task, not their own success, but the larger picture – the success of this higher goal, then each of them can put aside their own selfish purposes and work harmoniously for the completion of their shared meta-principle. When we recognize the word of God and his commands as the larger goal towards which we strive, our co-operation takes on a truly united character. Instead of a social contract, what now defines our society is a true community, a group of people truly working toward a goal, not of individual self-gratification, but of fraternal service of a higher purpose. Far from denying or minimizing the items about which we disagree, we see the benefit in the opposing view in the furtherance of God’s purposes in our world. We support the opposing view, recognizing its importance in the larger scheme. This is the concept of כלל ישראל, the community of Israel. The רמב"ם in his פרוש המשניות on בכורות ד:ג states, "בני ארץ ישראל הם הנקראים קהל".
One of the most satisfying aspects of Rav Kook’s teachings is his naturally evident love for humanity. This results in Rav Kook’s axiom that every part of humanity has an element of good that can be included in a holistic view of the world. Rav Kook’s philosophy has a place for every philosophical trend – indeed one of his greatest students, Rav David Cohen, wrote extensively on the necessity for each hashkafic trend in its time, and the special contributions each gave to a unifying world-view that culminates, slowly, in the messianic redemption of the world. Rav Kook’s way of thinking brings true שלום, consonance, to wildly opposing views, with a historically conscious eye on how these views ultimately strengthen each other and their ultimate goals of Godliness – לתקן עולם במלכות שקי.
When we come into conflict with others, and do our best to attain the kind of peace where both sides recognize the higher values involved, and strive to fulfill them, we are following Aharon in his love and quest for this more desirable, harmonious peace.It is this peace that is deserving of special mention.

It is also clear now that the blessing of peace, a true implementation of this idealized peace that Rav Kook describes, results naturally in the gift of priesthood. For the high priest was nothing if not an embodiment of the collective people of Israel. Upon his breast rested the multi-hued stones representing the various streams and diversity of the children of Israel. However, all are contained in the golden frame. The כהן הגדול could not choose to represent his family or his tribe: he represented the people, in all their variations, to God on high.
In masechet Avot, there are two statements that sound similar, but seem at first glance to be talking about opposite ideas. The first is in chapter four, where Rabbi Yochanan says that any assembly that is for the sake of heaven is destined to survive. But in chapter five, the rabbis teach that any argument that is for the sake of heaven will live on. These statements seem to speak of opposing things, so which is it: is it agreement or argument that survive if they are for the sake of heaven? Furthermore, it is understandable that the mishna would teach us this about machloket. Divisiveness is usually bad, and so one would expect it to not stand eternal. The lesson is that there are arguments that are beneficial, and do gain eternal value. But agreement? What negative aspect could there be to agreement that would necessitate the Mishna telling us that some agreements survive? And additionally, what agreements do not survive? What could possibly be bad about agreement?!
With Rav Kook’s teaching as a guide, we can understand very well. Rabbi Yochanan and the Rabbis are both teaching, from different perspectives, the same lesson. That activity which you see as argumentative, if acted upon for the right reasons, actually is peaceful – it brings about peace. Of course, the flip side of this is that if agreement is simply reached for pragmatic reasons, without submission to a higher cause as a common goal, then eventually the peace-makers will diverge, and the agreement they worked on will dissipate.
It is this type of peace, says Rav Kook, that is destined to flourish. In fact, the mishna in Avos teaches that this is the type of peace that flourishes out of argument for the sake of heaven, typified by disagreements of Hillel and Shammai. It is telling that precisely these men, Hillel and Shammai, are the ones who together teach their students to be of Aharon’s students, recognizing and desiring peace, the ideal peace, that which does not down-play differences, rather highlights them in the happy recognition that the opposing view also serves Hashem, and has a place in our world-view. Indeed, Hillel and Shammai, despite fundamental disagreements about what constitutes fitness for marriage, continued to marry their children to each other.
It is this type of machloket which allows Halacha the flexibility and organice dynamic qualities that allow it to remain ever-fresh in a world of decaying, dead legal systems. Rabbi Berkovits makes this point in his discussion of Da’at Yachid, the minority viewpoint, in his book Not in Heaven. Recording minority views and recognizing their legitimacy, even as they may be rejected from standard Halacha, maintains these views for the time in which the judges or rabbis of the generation will decide that these views, in light of new circumstances, need to be brushed off and utilized, This saves rabbinic, halachik Judaism from the pitfalls of rigidity, of what Berkovits refers to as rabbinic Karaism.

When the ideal peace replaces pragmatic armistance, when our world joins in recognition of the higher ideal around which we must all rally, and whose goals we will work to further in brotherly love, we will merit the blessings of the redemption, וכל בני בשר יקראו בשמך.