From the place where we are right
there will never sprout
flowers in the spring
The place where we are right
is trampled and hard
like a courtyard…
The poet, Yehuda Amichai, picks up a theme both modern and ancient: tending the soil of disagreement in such a way that it supports the productive life of community.
Rabbinic culture grows and flourishes in the loosened ground of differing opinions. The first planting of the sages, the Mishnah, is a legal document whose “ground breaking” style sets the stage for rich harvests of discourse and practice. Each section of Mishnah approaches an issue under consideration by presenting differing points of view—one part (helek) after the next—cultivating the fertile field of makh’loket, disagreement.
The Mishnah even contains a makh’loket, about the usefulness of makh’loket: Of what use is the minority opinion in a makh’loket? Is a minority opinion recorded as a possible creative voice for a future debate? Or, is a minority opinion only the record of a failed argument that is stated as a way of dismissing it for all time? Ironically, in this makh’loket it is the majority opinion that values the future usefulness of the minority view, while the minority opinion protects a majority view from future assault by an argument that has once failed.
In this Mishnah about makh’loket (click here for mishnah), the great “houses” of Hillel and Shammai are the heroes, “fathers of the world,” who demonstrate respect and openness towards other views allowing them to take a stand without trampling the earth to a hard, unyielding and unproductive patch.
Amichai also values such behavior, suggesting that “doubts and love” help break up the hard ground of insistence.
A position of the “House of Hillel” (or of Shammai) might give way, loosened by another point of view. But, precisely there, listen for a new whisper of meaning where the house once stood.