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L’shem Shamayim

08/18/2022 09:37:29 AM

Aug18

Rabbi Sam Trief

I have a small confession to make…

I am conflict-avoidant. Conflict makes me profoundly uncomfortable. In fact, if you say something that upsets me, you will rarely know it. I may talk about it ad nauseam with friends and family, but it is rare that I will actually confront the person with whom I am upset.

It seems I already know what I need to work on this year as the High Holidays roll around ;)

In all seriousness, however, as a result of this distaste for conflict, the current political climate in our world leaves me feeling constantly anxious. Given the polarization and deep divisions, I wonder how I can overcome my fear and engage in conflict in a productive and healthy way.

And so, it was fortuitous that I had a meeting with Jen Quick today, our director of teen and family learning & engagement. She shared a book entitled:  “Stories for the Sake of Argument: Stories to get you Arguing with your Family, Friends and Community. And that's a Good Thing.”

Hmm...arguing...that's a good thing?

Playing on the Jewish idea of arguments l’shem shamayimshamayim (for the sake of heaven), the book contains stories that are “intended to provoke us into argument” and “to help rehabilitate and reclaim arguments for a better world.”

As we all know, the way we confront each other can often be negative and/or unkind and this reframing of “reclaiming arguments for a better world” really resonated with me.

There is a better way to engage in conflict. And though I have surely not yet mastered the art, I am committing myself to the hard work this new year. After all, conflict lies at the root of relationships; it is all about how people talk and relate to each other. In this critical realm of our lives, we often fall short. Whether intentional or not, too often we shut others down, allowing our behavior to monopolize and manipulate the integrity of the discussion and the possibility for growth. We forget that there is a way to debate and disagree with honor, to allow for relationship even if we do not see eye-to-eye. We forget that there are consequences to our words and our actions.

This idea lies at the heart of this week’s torah portion, Eikev. Unlike other portions, this naming seems strange. After all, eikev, is not a proper name or active verb or a seemingly strong word, like the name of every other Torah portion. Rather, it is a minor word, a conjunction or conditional word meaning “if” or “as a result of.” And yet, therein lies its strength. The portion appears in the book of Deuteronomy, in a section all about conditional blessings if we behave well and heed God’s commandments. Depending on our behavior and the choices we make, we can enable our life and human relationships to prosper.

As we approach the month of Elul and the season of the Days of Awe, I will try my best to internalize this and grow from it; to not fear conflict, but to approach it with sensitivity and intentionality, to learn from my mistakes and to confront disagreements with transparency and honesty.  And in partnership, perhaps, we can right so much of what is wrong in our society.

Shabbat Shalom

Sat, December 10 2022 16 Kislev 5783