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On Controversy, Unity, and Tu B’Av

What characterizes a dispute for Heaven’s sake, and why in such a dispute, the position of the opposing party should not be rejected * The right way to reach a compromise that will satisfy the will of both parties * The goal of unity reflected in the events of Tu B’Av * In contrast to Yom Kippur, Tu B’Av remains a day on which weddings and matters of matchmaking abound, and in consequence, brotherly love is increased

A Dispute for the Sake of Heaven

Usually, when a great controversy breaks out, strong feelings of hatred arise, and as a result, many people are shocked that here, once again, we are failing in sinat chinam (baseless hatred) which destroyed our Temple, and therefore, we have to increase ahavat chinam (loving others freely without judgement). A demand arises for all parties to cancel their opinion, in order to stop the dispute. Some groups hold unity gatherings, while others write and speak about condemning discord, which involves all the prohibitions between man and his fellow neighbor.

However, in practice, despite the good intentions, the demand for ahavat chinam, and the shock from sinat chinam, do not register. This, because while a dispute is taking place, each side is sure they are in the right, its future depends on it, and if the other side wins, its world will be destroyed. Therefore, even when the fear arises that if they continue the dispute, together, both sides will be destroyed, they continue the dispute, because, even then, each side believes that if the other wins, everything will be destroyed.

Indeed, the Torah does not require people, or groups, to forego their opinion, because standing by their opinion is of great benefit to the clarification of the truth and the advancement of society, and this is a dispute le’Shem Shamayim (for the sake of Heaven). The prohibition is to engage in a dispute that is not le’Shem Shamayim.

It is worth adding that there is no justice in asking one of the parties to forgo his position, therefore, as long as his claim is not listened to seriously, the sense of justice pulsating in him will not allow him to remain silent. And if in the name of peace they demand one forgo his position, the dispute will worsen, because instead of addressing the substantive claims, they will make the dispute more personal, and dangerous.

The Sign of Controversy for the Sake of Heaven

In a dispute le’Shem Shamayim, one continues to love and respect the other side, while in a dispute that is not le’Shem Shamayim, the other side is hated, and despised. A person who carries on an evil dispute can deceive himself and claim that he loves and respects the other person, however, the test for this is simple: if he loves the other party – he wishes for his good, is unhappy with his failure, and does not wish for his destruction. As a result, he respects the other side, and sees all the good qualities in him, and appreciates them. Out of this, he is also able to present the position of the other side honestly, in such a way that the other side will also be satisfied with the presentation of his position.

On the other hand, in a dispute that is not le’Shem Shamayim, the disputants despise the other side, fail to see the good in it, and are unable to express their position in a fair manner. They interpret every position and action of the other side as being bad, and wish to see their opponents defeated, and suffer.

In other words, a dispute le’Shem Shamayim is a substantive dispute on the subject being argued about, which does not spread beyond the focused area of the argument. Whereas a dispute that is not le’Shem Shamayim becomes a personal dispute against all the positions of the other side. And when the disagreement is colossal, it spreads over the entire outlook and character of the group that expresses the opposite opinion. If they are from the left, the other side claims they hate all the settlers and haredim, despise the mesoratim (traditional Jews), and victimize them. They are alienated from their Jewish identity. They took over the legal system, the economy, academia, and other state resources. Their children serve in army troops that will afford them a springboard for future jobs, and avoid combat service in field units. They are not willing to give up power, and with various legal pretexts, find a way to denigrate the other side’s position, and harm it. And if they are from the right, well then they despise the law, hate Arabs, and want to turn the State of Israel into an apartheid state that all countries will hate. And if they are religious as well, then they also hate LGBT people, Reform Jews, members of other religions, and if they only had the power, they would impose harsh religious and modesty laws on the secular Jews, and harm science, the economy, and the army. The last remaining secular Jews will have to finance the kollel families, and their countless children, with their taxes.

And even though all these claims contain a grain of truth, the exaggeration is a lie, and expresses a dispute that is not le’Shem Shamayim.

A Dispute for the Sake of Heaven Allows for a Good Compromise

When a dispute is conducted properly, the positions are clarified in a beneficial manner, and as a result, a compromise can be reached in which each side achieves half of its ambitions. If, out of a positive outlook, they manage to understand each other better, each side will achieve the majority of its ambitions. In other words, if they delve deeper into what the other side has said, they will be able to agree that each side will receive what is more important to them, and consequently, it will turn out that the majority, or the most important issue of the ambitions of both sides, will be fulfilled.

On the other hand, in an antagonistic dispute, each side usually obtains less than half of its ambitions, since each side sabotages the opposing side, and thus each side achieves at best, some of its ambitions, and in a worst case scenario, is harmed, and achieves nothing.

Tu B’Av

It is appropriate in these days to deal with the subject of Tu B’Av. Our Sages said: “Israel never knew such wonderful holidays as ‘Tu B’Av’ (the 15th of the Jewish month of Av) and Yom Kippur” (Mishna Ta’anit 4:8). Several reasons were given for this in the Talmud (Ta’anit 30b), and all of them are related to events that took place on this day, three of which are related to events that increased the unity and peace between the Tribes of Israel, and as a result, is a correction of the sin of sinat chinam, because of which, the Second Temple was destroyed.

The Three Events Related to Strengthening Unity

The first: on this day, a daughter who had no brothers was permitted to marry a member of another tribe, which until then was forbidden, so that the inheritance she inherited would not pass from the members of her father’s tribe to the members of her husband’s tribe, and as it was said in relation to the daughters of Zelophehad: “Every daughter among the Israelite tribes who inherits a share must become the wife of someone from a clan of her father’s tribe, in order that every Israelite [heir] may keep an ancestral share. Thus no inheritance shall pass over from one tribe to another, but the Israelite tribes shall remain bound each to its portion” (Bamidbar 36: 8-9).

The second: on this day the members of the tribe of Benjamin were allowed to marry women from the daughters of the other tribes. Because following the refusal of the members of the tribe of Benjamin to punish the sinners in the act of the concubine at Gibeah, a terrible civil war broke out in which tens of thousands of Israelites were killed, and the tribe of Benjamin was almost annihilated. In the framework of the war, and anger with the tribe of Benjamin, the Israelites swore that they would not give their daughters to the sons of the tribe of Benjamin, as it is said: ” Now Israel’s forces had taken an oath at Mizpah: “None of us must ever give his daughter in marriage to a Benjaminite” (Judges 21:1).

At the end of the war, there were only hundreds of men from Benjamin left, and in order to save the tribe of Benjamin from extinction, they had to find a permit to their oath by which they could marry. It was agreed that the sons of Benjamin would wait in the vineyards for the daughters of Shiloh, while they used to dance and make merry there in preparation for their wedding, and initiate the relationship with the girls without the girls’ fathers approving it, thus finding brides for them without the fathers breaking the oath. And as the elders of Israel said to the sons of Benjamin: “As soon as you see the daughters of Shiloh coming out to join in the dances, come out from the vineyards; let each of you seize a wife from among the daughters of Shiloh (with the consent of the girls, but without the permission of the fathers), and be off for the land of Benjamin” (ibid. 21:21).

Our Sages also said (Ta’anit 30b), that after the division of the Kingdom of Israel, Jeroboam ben Nevat placed guards to prevent the ten tribes in his kingdom from ascending to Jerusalem and the Temple in the kingdom of Judah. And on Tu B’Av, after several generations, King Hosea ben Elah canceled the matter, thus allowing all of Israel to return and unite around the Temple, as in the days of Solomon.

Matchmaking and Weddings

In addition to this, the day of Tu B’Av, as well as Yom Kippur, was designated for matchmaking, in which the daughters of Jerusalem would continue the custom of the daughters of Shiloh, and go to the vineyards to find their match, out of joy. And as our Sages said: “There were no days as joyous for the Jewish people as the fifteenth of Av and as Yom Kippur, as on them the daughters of Jerusalem would go out in white clothes, which each woman borrowed from another. Why were they borrowed? They did this so as not to embarrass one who did not have her own white garments… and the daughters of Jerusalem would go out and dance in the vineyards. And what would they say? Young man, please lift up your eyes and see what you choose for yourself for a wife. Do not set your eyes toward beauty, but set your eyes toward a good family, as the verse states: “Grace is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised” (Proverbs 31:30), and it further says: “Give her the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates” (Mishna Ta’anit 26:2).

What these two days have in common is that they are days of peace and unity in the world – on Yom Kippur, between God and Israel, and on Tu B’Av, between Jews. On Yom Kippur, Israel repents, and God in His great love for His people, atones for their transgressions and purifies them, and they return to connect with Him in the holiness of their faith, and unite with Him out of love (Peninei Halakha: Yamim Nora’im 6:1). On Tu B’Av, peace was made amongst the Jews, for the deepest division is between the tribes, and on Tu B’Av, the tribes removed the barriers and divisions between them, and returned to merge in unity.

Out of the general unity of these days, Jews are accustomed to engage in matchmaking, in which every couple who marries with love and joy, expresses on a small scale, the uniqueness between God and Israel and His people, and the unity within Israel, and consequently, the Shechinah (Divine Presence) dwells between them. In the marriage covenant, which includes a commitment to live in total loyalty to one another, there is an expression of the sanctity of the covenant between Israel and God, and as is said in the blessing of the Kiddushin: “Blessed art thou God, who has sanctified His people Israel by chuppah and kiddushin.” That is why the relationship between God and Israel is likened to the joy of a bridegroom and a bride, as it is said: “And as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:5). Also, by marrying, which includes a commitment to love and make each other happy, the couple fulfills in the most complete way the mitzvah which is a major tenet in the Torah, the mitzvah “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18, Sifra ibid). And resultantly, the unity between all the tribes of Israel is revealed, and between Israel and their Father in Heaven, and an abundance of blessing and life is added to the world (Peninei Halakha: Simchat HaBayit U’Birchato 1:1; 5-6).

Since the Temple was destroyed, it is not customary to engage in matchmaking on Yom Kippur, and we suffice with prayers – that single men and women merit to marry, and that couples merit to intensify their love and happiness (Peninei Halakha: Yamim Nora’im 6:12). However, Tu B’Av remains a day on which people often marry, and engage in matchmaking and unity between the different segments of the people of Israel. Therefore, it is considered a Yom Tov, and Tachanun (supplications) is not recited in prayers, and fasting is prohibited.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

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