There is a very famous story in the Talmud. In it, an accidently invited guest shows up a party. The host hates the guest – and embarrasses him and forces him to leave. The assembled people, including the great rabbis of the city, fail to lift a finger to help the embarrased visitor. The guest goes on to carry out a plot to destroy the Jewish community. The same rabbis learn of the plot, and fail to stop or the plotter – for fear of looking thuggish in the eyes of the world. In the end, the Second Temple is destroyed – and a very roughly estimated two million Jews are killed.
Several lessons are learned from this story. The first is that mindless hatred, as displayed by the host of the party, can be awesomly destructive. The second is that we must have the courage to do what is right, even if it doesn’t look that way to others. If the Rabbis had interceded at the party, or if they had killed the plotter, a terrible event would have been averted. But, wary of damaging their public images and their social standing, they did neither.
There is another lesson that people learn from this story. They learn that conflict, any conflict, is terribly destructive. In my mind, that isn’t a lesson which can be learned. If the rabbis had stood up for the guest, they would have started an additional conflict. On this simple conflict based calculus, they would have done nothing positive. But they would have averted one of the most terrible events in Jewish history.
So what makes the conflict between the host and his guest unacceptable, while making the potential conflict between the rabbis and the host a mitzvah (a good deed). The answer is simple enough. The host hated the guest, *personally*. The rabbis would have been making a rational argument for not throwing guest out of the party. One is conflict between individuals, and the other is a conflict between ideas. The rabbis wouldn’t have hated the host, or gone out of their way to embarrass or hurt him. Their goal would simply have been to convince him to display some kindness for the unwanted guest.
I’ve never really fought with people. One way or another, I’ve avoided fights. But this year has been different. This year, my brother, myself, our spouses and several other people started a new shtebl (miniature synagogue). As a result of that, a significant amount of animosty has been directed our way. And what have I done? I’ve kept on doing exactly what I was doing before. Our community has expanded, and I am playing a very active role in that expansion.
And now, Yom Kippur is almost upon us. It is the last time in the year that we can ask our fellow man for forgiveness. But, I have a dilemma. How can I ask those who are angry about our shteibl for forgiveness? After all, I intend to continue doing exactly what I was doing before. Why would they forgive me?
The answer is in the story from the Talmud. As part of asking for forgiveness, we are supposed to pay off our debts – and, I assume, compensate others for the damage we have caused them. Then, we ask for *personal* forgiveness. We don’t ask others to forgive our debts or the damages we’ve caused them, we ask them to forgive us personally – and to abandon the mindless animosty displayed by the host of that infamous party.
I’ve examined my actions concerning the new shteibl. I’ve considered the arguments against it. And I’ve decided that I am doing the right thing. That is why I didn’t change course – despite some of the disagreeable reactions to what I’ve done. Obviously, others feel that their opposition to the shtebl is just as founded in reason and logic. But as an afteraffect to these arguments, interpersonal animosty – of a greater or lessor level – has been created. When I ask those who have disagreed with me for forgiveness, I am asking them not to hold my arguments against me personally. I must accept a conflict of ideas, if I feel that my arguments are strong. If I were to fail to do so, I would coming up short in my duties. But I also must seek to eliminate any conflict between individuals. If I were to fail to do so, all the positive effects of my actions would be undermined. It was the Rabbis’ job to prevent the embarrasment of the unwanted guest, without personally hating their host.
There are all sorts of disputes. There are all sorts of damages. It is our obligation, whether disputes are religious, or personal, or centered on business, to try to separate the people involved from their arguments and positions. It is their obligation to return the favor. In this way, we can have a meeting of minds instead of a conflict between individuals.
In this way true peace, not the false peace of silence created by a failure to do what is right, is created.
I would like to ask your forgiveness for any harm or hurt I have caused – intentionally or unintentionally, known or unknown. And in the tradition of Yom Kippur, I would like to extend my forgiveness for any harm or hurt you have caused – intentionally or unintentionally, known or unknown.
May we all have a year of peace, of success and of blessing,