31 - Disputes, Conflicts and Arguments part 1

The word machlokes has acquired multiple meanings in Jewish speech and literature, including disagreement, dissension, dispute, argument, divisiveness and rebellion.

We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create z’chusim for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.


Last week’s stretch of the week was:  Think of any mitzva of V’Ahavta L'Rayacha KaMocha.  Be sure to perform this mitzva at least once this week.

Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.

Taking A Deeper Look - Lesson #31

מחלוקת - MACHLOKES

PART 1 – Avoiding Strife and Pursuing Peace


The word machlokes has acquired multiple meanings in Jewish speech and literature, including disagreement, dissension, dispute, argument, divisiveness and rebellion.  Men and women alike are obligated in the mitzva of avoiding machlokes, which originates from the passuk “He shall not be like Korach and his congregation” (Bamidbar 17:5).  

Children should be taught from a young age to steer clear of fights and avoid association with ba’alei machlokes.  Certainly, parents should never involve their children in their own machlokes or command them to support them against an “enemy.”  If a parent does this, the child should not obey him in this matter.  On the contrary, children should do everything in their power to put an end to the machlokes in which the parent is snarled, even if it entails a great investment of time or effort; by doing so they will fulfill the words of the pasuk, “Seek peace and pursue it” (Tehillim 34:15).

When two people have a disagreement, their goal should be to resolve their differences.  Unfortunately, the method they most commonly use to achieve that goal-fighting it out-will virtually never result in a peaceful resolution.  

As soon as two individuals see that they are unable to reach an understanding and accommodate each other on their own, they should go to a third party, someone who is acceptable to both of them, to help negotiate a compromise.  It might be a Rav, a mutual friend or a fellow businessman.  If this option is not available, they should go to a din Torah, as the Torah advises, “When there is an argument between people, let them come to judgment” (Devarim 25:1).  

(Excerpted from The Code of Jewish Conduct by Rav Yitzchok Silver)

Story(based on a true story)

Growing up, I always knew that my extended family was in a fight.  Some time when I was pretty young, my aunt on my mom’s side stopped having contact with my grandparents.  She didn’t bring her family to stay on Yom Tov, or visit on school holidays.  She has a daughter my age who I always wished I would be close with, but I didn’t see her much.  They came for our simchos-separate tables from us, of course- but that was it.

My family lived close to my grandparents in Boston, and my aunt lived in New York.  If they came to Boston, they wouldn’t have a good enough reason not to come see my grandparents, so they didn’t come.  My mother apparently thought this was ridiculous, so we only went to see my aunt once a year, maybe, even if we were in New York more often.  My mom would talk about how she didn’t want to get involved, but I always saw her take my grandmother’s side.  As I got older, I realized that, living near my grandmother and far from my aunt, siding with my grandmother was easier for her than the effort of staying out of it.

For years and years, I wouldn’t let anyone tell me what it was all about.  If it came up, I left the room, or actually said, “I don’t want to know.”  I wish I could be this vigilant with all lashon hara.  I didn’t need to know what was behind the fight, and I didn’t want to take sides.  And I just knew that if I knew what had happened, I’d have an opinion about which side made more sense-I always have opinions.  So it was just safer to know nothing at all.  And in general that was respected, as long as I didn’t question my family members’ actions.

Until I ended up in college in New York.  Three weeks in, I finally pushed myself to make an awkward phone call and asked my aunt if I could come for Shabbos.  It became my comfortable place to go, where I could call on Thursday night and come.  My aunt even came by my apartment to schlep me to her house for soup and a few days’ rest when I told her I was sick.  My mother became very grateful to my aunt for being involved in my life, and I eventually found out they’d begun to speak semi-regularly.  

But I still had to be careful talking about my grandparents, specifically my grandmother.  I figured that out pretty quickly based on the timing of the cringes around the table.  It was uncomfortable.  But I didn’t bring her up, and they didn’t bring her up.  My cousins sometimes asked me questions about the family, and I tried to answer them with facts only so I wouldn’t draw them into the fight either. 

It’s years later now.  My aunt and my mom have completely thawed out, having worked together to make my New York wedding and gone on from there.  The cousins know each other, due to my parents’ frequent visits to New York.  And I eventually found out what started the original conflict, and am old enough and careful enough to see both sides.  I think it helps that now I have experience as both a daughter and a mother.  

Even so, I wish someone had stepped in earlier to try to fix the problem in my family, or that my mom and my aunt would have stepped out of their anger and gotten their families together.  They were the adults, after all.  

I did find out that my mom actually tried to help out once, at the beginning, bringing in a family rav.  Unable to resolve the problem, he gave everyone advice that they tried to follow:  “Do what you have to do, but try not to be mean, and keep the kids out of it.”  And so I now know and like my cousins, and was not afraid to call my aunt.  Because while I could sense the tension around me, and heard occasional comments, I did not grow up with a steady stream of negative comments that would make me hate the subject or the speaker.  For this I am grateful.

Discussion Question Options:

What types of things can cause long-standing fights?  Why do some conflicts endure for a long time?

How do children get involved in machlokes involving their parents?  What are some practical ways to keep them out of it?

What actions can an outsider take to try to solve or lessen the severity of these fights?  What kind of actions can one of those involved take?

Stretch of the Week:

Stop yourself from talking about a conflict in front of children.


Stretch Of The Week