The ability to maneuver appropriately within the social and communal realm is an extremely important one, and our children’s developing attitudes and approaches cannot be left to chance. Machlokes – disputes, disagreements and controversies crop up at every point in one’s life and the way in which a person deals with them, may make all the difference between a happy person and a disgruntled one. How can we help our children handle disagreements in a wholesome and appropriate manner?
We can learn an all important distinction between different types of disagreements and how to handle them from this week’s Parsha. The posuk (Bereishis 1:8) tells us “Hashem called the firmament – heaven, and there was evening and morning the second day.” The Midrash (Bereishis Rabba 4:6) questions why, unlike all the other days of creation, on the second day the Torah does not say “And He saw that it was good.” R’ Chanina answers that on the second day there was “division or divisiveness” in that Hashem divided between the upper and lower waters (Pasuk 7). Therefore, Hashem did not ascribe “goodness” to division, for divisiveness is the antithesis of peace and goodness.
Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld zt’l, as quoted by his grandson Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Sonnenfeld, points out an apparent contradiction from the first day of creation. The Torah tells us that Hashem divided between light and dark, nevertheless, the first day’s creations were viewed as “good” in Hashem’s eyes. Why is one `division’ good, and the other `division’ bad?
The answer given by Rav Yosef Chaim is as follows: Light and darkness are opposing forces – they cannot function together. The division between these two opposing entities is a positive and necessary step. For this reason it is entirely appropriate to refer to this division as “good.” The division between the upper and lower waters, however, was a separation between two items of the same substance. When one separates light and dark, good and evil, that is good. But when there is a separation between two forces that can work together, that is considered unfortunate, and thus undeserving of the appellation “good.”
Rav Sonnenfeld goes on to say that this concept has great bearing in our lives and affairs. As reprehensible as contention and controversy are, there are times when it is a necessary and good phenomenon. When struggling against the forces of evil and impurity we must implement a clear and total separation between ourselves and our opponents. It is in a situation in which two parties are striving for the same goals but disagree as to the manner of pursuing those goals that divisiveness and strife must be avoided at all costs.
We see from the varying circumstances in the act of creation that controversy and even Machlokes are not intrinsically bad. It depends on when and why one becomes contentious. Similarly, being peaceful and agreeable is not entirely good, if the situation calls for defending against people, forces or ideas that seek to undermine and ruin us.
This all-important distinction can easily become blurred in real-life situations. There is very little in life that is `black and white’ – circumstances are frequently `grey’ and they must be analyzed and judged carefully. Our job is to help our children develop awareness of clear and firm ground rules governing their behavior. With that foundation, they can hopefully make wise choices in their own lives. It is important to note that frequently, Rabbinic insight needs to be enlisted in providing clear guidance for asituation. Introducing our children to the idea of seeking out Daas Torah – Torah opinion, modeling it ourselves as we seek to find direction through life’s challenges, is invaluable.
In actuality, most disagreements we and our children encounter are of the second type – differences of opinion among people with the same or similar values and goals. We need to model for and guide our children to show respect for our `adversary’ – frequently our friend, neighbor, colleague, playmate or classmate and that disagreements need not and should not descend into personal animosity. In this way we will give them a truly valuable tool for a healthy, happy life. By helping them realize, at the same time, that not every one and not every idea and value is to be respected or even tolerated, we will help ensure that their future as a Torah Jew remains intact and imbued with meaning, purpose and fulfillment.
Best wishes for a Shabbos of clarity and harmony,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann