The Hebrew word machloket — dissension — contains the verbal roots halak and met. The first one means to divide and the second one means death.
I always believe in the powerful message that is intrinsic to the words that make up the Hebrew language. It is not in vain that our sages affirm in the Midrash and Talmud that Hebrew is the Divine language used by God in Creation. In other words, when the Almighty said, “Let there be light,” according to our rabbis, He did so in Hebrew. That is why we refer to the Hebrew language as lashon hakodesh or “the holy tongue.”
However, I also think that the above is a reflection not only of our beliefs with regard to the Hebrew language, but in addition an affirmation of the constructive and destructive power that words have, regardless of who says or writes them, and regardless of which means we use to spread them.
One of the favorite themes of discussion in Jewish life today (as it has always been) is unity: everyone seems to preach about and discuss it. This is also the case within the Orthodox community. Unfortunately, the discussions in many cases cast more heat than light on the problem.
It is obvious that unity can only be achieved among those who share a common goal. The awareness and consideration for this goal would render everyone involved ready to make sacrifices and compromises. The idea of unity is therefore only an illusion, if there exists a conflict of interests between those involved. Unity, or at least shalom — peace — is not possible if there is no respect for others or if one believes he holds the only truth and that others are wrong.
One of today’s greatest tragedies is the conception that we have to have unity in areas where there are ideological conflicts, and that we should all unite around “my” way of seeing things.
Well, I humbly and respectfully believe this is wrong and contrary to the spirit of Judaism. Intellectual dissent was always encouraged by our sages, always within the parameters of halachah and following Talmudic principles. We go as far as to say with regard to Hillel and Shammai, whose intellectual debates and theological disputes are recorded all throughout the Talmud, that their disputes on halachah are a “macloket leshem shamayim” — a dispute for the sake of heaven and regardless of who we follow, their positions are considered ellu ve’ellu dibre Elokim chayim: “These and these are divine words of the living God.”
I do not even wish to talk at all about those whose interest is only in the promotion of discord and who then draw their strength from the resulting misery.
No doubt that there may be differences: differences of origin (minhagim), differences of customs, but we all share a common goal. The goal of serving God in the way of the Torah and of attracting as many Jews as possible to that same purpose.
Our Orthodox community in Seattle has the potential to be an incredible force.
I pray and hope that we all end up realizing that to achieve unity does not mean to agree on everything, but to share common goals. And if unity is not possible, at least let there be shalom. After all, shalom in Hebrew is equivalent to shalem, which means perfect, by the way. We can achieve it when we utilize the powerfully constructive, and not destructive nature of the words we say or write about our brothers and sisters.
May Hashem bless his people with peace.