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Agree to Disagree

08/04/2022 08:19:03 AM


In our interactions with family and friends, it sometimes happens that we touch upon taboo topics. Through past experiences and conversations, we know the other person’s thoughts on different things and have long ago agreed to disagree with them. Perhaps it’s about politics, or a pet-peeve, or even a past disagreement. We’ve already said our piece hundreds of times, and we already know how the other will respond and what they think. So, we keep our thoughts to ourselves and save ourselves another go-around with the same conversation. And if ever the subject gets close to being broached, we talk around it without stoking the flames and ire of our loved ones.

As we begin this last book of the Torah, we see that Moses has such an experience. At the start of the Book of Deuteronomy, the Torah relates that “[t]hese are the words that Moses addressed to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan – Through the wilderness, in the Arabah near Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth, and Di-zahab.” (Deuteronomy 1:1). On the surface, the verse sets up the setting for the Book of Deuteronomy (as the entire book is essentially Moses’s final speech to the Israelites as they stand on the cusp of entering the promised land). But why are these places mentioned and what was so special about them? Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (“Rashi,” France, 12th century) points out that each of these places were locations where the Israelites were reproved by God. In each of these places, the Israelites rebelled against God and God admonishes them for their insolence. However, according to Rashi, Moses just alludes to these places without reminding both God and the people what happened there because he doesn’t want to rouse God’s anger once more, nor further embarrass the Israelites with their sins. Like a taboo topic, Moses skirts around the issue and just alludes to it without going deeper into the details.

To agree to disagree is sometimes the only option to maintain a relationship and begin to rebuild trust. Knowing what someone thinks about a certain issue and respecting their opinion enough to not have to convince them otherwise signals that we want to move on from this sour point without rehashing the drama time and time again. Our tradition is full of many disagreements (machlakot) between the sages, yet they are able to agree to disagree and are able to maintain a relationship and move on. It is not our duty to solve all of the disagreements in our lives. However, it is our duty to learn how to live together and how we can continue to build trust amongst each other. If God and the Israelites can move on from the people’s rebellions, then we too can learn to focus more on what we share than on the sour points that we’re tempted to rehash. And like Moses, perhaps when we need to bring up those disagreements, we can do it in a way that just alludes to the argument, without getting deeper into the details.

Fri, June 14 2024 8 Sivan 5784