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Thoughts on Makhloket

04/29/2022 02:06:53 PM


Cantor Barbara Powell

Nadav and Abihu, Aaron’s two sons, brought strange fire into the Mishkan after having completed their appropriate tasks, such as bringing the blood to the altar. Upon bringing the strange fire, they were consumed by it and struck down by God.

The sacrificial offerings in the Mishkan followed a very specific sequence, in preparation for God’s presence descending to be experienced by the people. Aaron’s sons bringing the blood to the altar is part of this sequence. Suddenly then, Nadav and Abihu each “takes his own” censer/coal pan and lays new incense and brings it to the altar, as if each one is acting on his own.

Sforno, Obadiah ben Joseph, an Italian commentator of the 15th-16th centuries saw their transgression as having not consulted their “mentors” about what they were going to do. They did not debate or discuss and work it out together. Were they worried that they’d be prevented from acting if they stopped to seek guidance? Were they so caught up in the moment that they didn’t think it through? Perhaps if they had engaged in debate, Makhloket, the tragedy could have been avoided.

Makhloket is defined as conflict, debate, argument, or division; working through ideas, controversies, and problems in dialogue with your fellow learner. Makhloket is seen as a path to truth. Respectful discourse, listening, and speaking with consideration are prized. In a basic way, this idea is captured in the saying, “Two heads are better than one.”

From Pardes Institute in Jerusalem, “Often people have negative associations with conflict. Rabbinic Judaism, however, has always valued machloket, conflict. For example, the Talmud, the primary Rabbinic work of the first millennium, lists literally thousands of machlokot, conflicts or disagreements among the Rabbis. The Rabbis saw engaging in machloket as a critical part of uncovering truth. The key, however, is to engage in machloket in a constructive way—one that preserves the relationship.”

The root for Makhloket is khelek, Chet lamed kuf, which means dividing, or separating things into parts; a neutral word. It suggests that each part of the debate should be heard. The emphasis is placed on the kind of argument that is, L’Shem haShamayim, for the sake of heaven. What helps us get to a truth isn’t a question of who is right, but how you discuss, and whether your relationship is intact when the conflict/debate is over. That is something to strive for.

Mon, August 15 2022 18 Av 5782