Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Basic Chemistry

I made a comment to someone today about how I am opposed to break-away minyanim. I added that not only break away minyanim, but breaking away in general – in family, in shuls or in national politics.

On the other hand, my approach that says compromise and avoidance of machloket has the status of l’chatchila is often viewed as wishy-washy. If I really believe in something, why should I compromise? Maybe the other side should be the one to avoid machloket?

At my son’s brit, I said the following:


If “mila” (circumcision) is important, why isn’t a child born circumcised?

Mila is part of a brit, a covenant. There are many kinds of britot, such as treaties between nations, and even marriage (a brit nisuin). A brit can only exist when both sides are not whole, and are lacking something. We learn this from nature: Inert elements, like helium, cannot combine to form molecules. Only elements that are missing electrons or protons can combine to from a new molecule, as hydrogen and oxygen combine to form water.

There are those who object to circumcision because they claim that a child is born perfect. Judaism rejects this, for a child is born cute, but not perfect – either physically or ethically. We have a religion of mitzvot, of taking action. What mitzvot can a baby keep? What chesed can he do? Other than smiles, he can only receive, not give.

I notice from my work in the refet that calves can walk and do almost everything adult cows can do right after birth. Humans, however, need to develop first. For a long time this question bothered me: Why should it take humans so many years to mature? The answer we see is that humans have a higher ethical level to achieve than other animals. Therefore, their physical development runs parallel to the ethical development.

Mila is a physical sign of our acknowledgement of his lack of perfection, of his need to develop. Once we admit to this deficiency, we can make a brit with our Creator.

This is critical to understanding why I am opposed to “break-away”. A hydrogen atom does not want to break-away – when it is alone, it is incomplete. It is important we feel the same way when we are not connected with other members of our family, our community or our nation. I never want to feel so “inert” that I can be completely independent of the “other”.

There is another aspect of this that I’ve developed over the years. Of all the punishments available to the descendants of Moav, why did God insist that we don’t marry them? I think the reason is that they did not show willingness to allow Bnei Yisrael to cross through their land. They followed the principle of “sheli sheli v’shelcha shelcha”, i.e. midat sdom. And davka the descendants of Lot should have realized that the approach of Sdom was wrong, and that of Avraham was correct. But again, why the prohibition on marriage? Because in a marriage, you can’t have “sheli sheli”. The basic concept of a marital union – a brit – means that both sides concede to each other. It would be impossible to marry into a nation that has “sheli sheli” as an ideology, not as a punishment, but simply because marriage isn’t a logical option. (Perhaps that is why Rut was able to successfully marry into the Jewish people, because she so obviously rejected the concept of “sheli sheli”.)

And I feel that in almost any argument basic humility requires that I don’t claim to be 100% right. Certainly I’m convinced that my cause is just, but I have to leave a little bit of room for the other side to continue to exist. That’s the concept of “machloket l’shem shamayim”. Even though we follow Hillel, we still learn Shamai’s teachings. We don’t want them to cease to exist. Elu V’Elu Divrei Elokim Chaim!

Perhaps I’m na├»ve to believe that these rules from the beit midrash should apply in politics (family or shul, local or national), but these are my values.