On Sept. 12, the Atlanta Scholars Kollel sponsored a networking event at the City Springs Terrace ballroom along with lodge Hebrew Order of David. More than 100 people convened to hear featured speaker Rabbi Mordechai Becher.
The rabbi began by announcing that there are two things that are associated with Jews: “They eat a lot, and they argue a lot, which is unlike the Japanese samurai that focus on silence.”
According to Becher, the Torah says that if you offend someone, you should ask for forgiveness. Often, if you find yourself offended, the louder the personal offense, the more likely that argument is invalid. However, if you offend someone, on Kol Nidre, you can ask G-d for forgiveness of the sins you committed in the past year, but for another person you must ask for forgiveness directly from the person you offended.
The Talmud lists three major sins: murder, idol worship and infidelity, but the worst of them all is baseless hatred. Becher pointed out that Rabbi Akiva had 24,000 followers, and all of them died suddenly because they did not respect each other.
On the top of arguments, he said that disagreements are inevitable, and Judaism has courts to resolve conflict, including a Beth Din. Becker also made the point that the Tower of Babel in Genesis failed because everyone spoke the same language and there was no disagreement. G-d instituted different languages among the people because he wanted diversity, not conformity. Just as we have a thumb that opposes the rest of the fingers, a human’s hands have diversity in it.
Becher said in learning, the worst way to learn is through a lecture, while the best way to learn is with a partner, the way learning occurs in yeshivas. He pointed out that truth most often occurs by arguing the issues in detail. A single person has no one to criticize or discuss with, so the truth may be difficult to find. Truth occurs from discussion, looking at every issue from many points of view, and then reaching the truth for the best solution.
Therefore, the rabbi suggested that there are several considerations in any discussion with another person. The first is to listen attentively. This is not always easy because we tend to let our mind wander, or to interrupt before the other person is finished. The second point is to articulate your arguments so that they are easy to grasp by the other person. The better you can explain your position, the more you, too, will understand your own arguments. The third important attribute in any discussion is to focus on the issue being discussed. Focus on the other person’s opinion and not on that person’s personality.
If you can follow these attributes, you can then focus on supporting common ground. Not everything is a dispute, and perhaps there are only very small differences that can resolved. Becher made the point that in this country we all agree on democracy and the support of the rule of law, so many issues can be agreed upon, and let the rest be unresolved. In that case, it is often best to leave them alone, for there is often nothing better than silence.
The final point the rabbi made in any discussion is not to respond to another’s argument quickly. It is best to just pause. You do not want to regret what you say.
The rabbi ended his talk with the thought that one person asked his friend, “How could I learn to be silent?” His friend didn’t answer.