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Avoiding Arguments

by Rabbi Moshe Goldberger

[The Torah says:] "Do not be like Korach and his congregation" (Numbers 17:5). [On this, the Talmud explains:] "Anyone who promotes or maintains disharmony transgresses a Torah prohibition" (Sanhedrin 110a).

Sometimes we attempt to display our superiority by correcting others and trying to prove they are wrong. We need to stop and ask ourselves, What is the purpose? Why argue with people and cause them discomfort and embarrassment?

Maimonides writes in 'Guide for the Perplexed': "One should listen to other people's words and not be obstinate... as it says: 'Don't stiffen your neck' (Deut 10:16)."

Knowing how to refrain from talking and how to avoid verbal dissension is a very valuable skill. The Sage Shimon ben Gamliel told us, "All my life I was raised amongst the Sages and I did not find anything better for the body than silence" (Avos 1:17). We are also taught to become disciples of Aaron, to always love and pursue peace (Avos 1:12).

If you argue with and contradict others, you may win the battle sometimes, but you will never win the war, because the friction that develops may cause you to lose a friend. The more we argue with others, attempting to set them straight, the more they will try to assert themselves and their authority by fighting back. If, on the other hand, you admit the other person's importance and leave him be, he will calm down, too. "A gentle response will turn back anger" (Proverbs 15:1).

When you yourself are corrected, admit to the truth. Express your thanks for points brought to your attention that you did not think about. It is great to be saved from making a mistake.

Torah Study

When it comes to learning Torah, we do encourage discussions and disputes. When these arguments are for the sake of Heaven, as by Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai (Avos 5:20), they are ideal.

Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai's goals were to uncover the truth in God's Torah, with respect to each other's right to a different opinion. Korach, on the other hand, argued for the sake of his own honor. For attempting to destroy Moses, who was considered the foundation of the earth, he was punished by being swallowed by the earth. The punishment was extremely appropriate because Korach attacked Moses verbally, with his mouth, and the earth swallowed him by opening its "mouth."

The Talmud points out that Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai were always friendly and affectionate toward each other, and they did not refrain from marrying into each other (Yevamos 14b). We also learned that Beis Hillel was careful to listen to Beis Shammai's view first and then to study their teachings carefully before voicing their own opinions (Eiruvin 13b). Because of these actions, the Talmud says that Beis Hillel merited to have the law follow their position in most cases.

When you love and pursue peace, you are always a winner.

Be Yourself

Every person is obligated to say, "Because of me, God created the world." (Sanhedrin 37a)

What a stunning declaration! Do we truly understand this message, accept who we are, and recognize that we have the power to reach our goals?

Are you happy with your life? Do you feel comfortable with who you are, or do you find yourself trying to conform to others and forcing yourself into a pattern that is not for you? Study your own personality and develop your individuality.

We all have talents and skills that make us unique, but we need to develop them. No one can do it for you. As the Sage Hillel always said, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me?" (Avos 1:14).

It is said that the biggest mistake people make when applying for a job is not being themselves. Be yourself. There is no one exactly like you. Each of your experiences in life are uniquely yours. God placed you in a certain family and a particular environment to enable you to become the best you.

This concept can be applied as well to other people. Your spouse, children, friends, and coworkers are also unique people with unique personalities. Encourage every person to develop his maximum potential and not to imitate others.

King Solomon teaches, "Educate the child according to his way" (Proverbs 22:6). With our children we have to be particularly careful to encourage individuality. Each child is his own person and must be taught this.

Be yourself -- and don't impose your will on others. Allow them to be themselves, too.

Reprinted with permission from InnerNet Magazine



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