D’var Torah for August 16, 2019

This week we will be reading from parashat Va’et’chanan. There is a lot going on in this Torah portion including both the restatement of the 10 Commandments as well as the text of theShema and V’Ahavata.
One thing that has always struck me about Judaism is that we are not a dogmatic tradition, for the most part. In some more traditional communities there is the expected adherence to Moses Maimonides 13 principles of faith[1], but even then there are disagreements over how these are to be interpreted. However, for our purposes, the one statement of faith, if you will, is that there is one God. However, even with this, there is not a statement about what God is, or even, what God is not. This is in part why, we as Jews, spend so much time debating and wrestling over both the nature of God as well as trying to understand what God wants from us.
And if there is no universal agreement in our tradition over the nature of God or the paths we should be walking, how much the more so, there is a great deal of space for us to disagree over just about everything.
In our tradition, there are a couple of useful concepts with it comes to sacred disagreement. The first is: mahloket–as conflict, debate, disagreement, controversy. The second is l’Shem Shamayim / Lo L’Shem Shamayim: An argument considered ‘for the sake of Heaven’ or ‘not for the sake of Heaven.’[2]
Sadly, in today’s world, especially in social media, but not exclusively, any makloket is mostly lo l’Shem Shamayim, not for the sake of heaven. It is for the sake of winning, for the sake of ego, or the sake of simply wanting to be right. Rather, our tradition teaches, sacred arguing should be focused on uncovering greater truths and greater understanding, or l’Shem Shamayim, for the sake of Heaven.
On a personal note, it has taken me many years, and many hard lessons to learn that social media is not the place for mahloket. This is why I rarely post anymore, and why I don’t get involved in arguments anymore, at least online. It is simply not an environment conducive to sacred argumentation. When you cannot see the face of the person you’re engaging with, it is easy to create a false image of them in your mind, and forget that they too, are created in the image of God.
There is much that is upsetting and distressing in the world today, and I will continue to argue, hopefully l’Shem Shamayim, from a position of Jewish tradition. But from spaces where we can encounter each other in sacred and meaningful ways.
May this Shabbat be for you, a sweet and restful one, and a place to continue to wrestle and struggle, for the sake of Heaven.
Shabbat Shalom