The Great Debate
The schools of Hillel and Shammai are famous for their disputes in Jewish law. One of these concerned whether one should tell a bride on her wedding day that she is beautiful (even if this is not true). The school of Shammai held that in this situation it would be wrong to lie. The school of Hillel held that a bride is always beautiful on her wedding day. The school of Hillel won the dispute. Indeed, Jewish law today almost always agrees with the school of Hillel. The Talmud explains why:
A heavenly voice declared: “The words of both schools are the words of the living God, but the law follows the rulings of the school of Hillel.”
So why does the law follow the rulings of the school of Hillel? The Talmud explains that the disciples of Hillel were gentle and modest, and studied both their own opinions and the opinions of the other school, and humbly mentioned the words of the other school before their own.
One of the longest debates in Talmudic history spanned two and a half years. It was like the Super Bowl of Debates. And it wasn’t about anything as simple as whether something was kosher or permissible on the Sabbath, or if an animal was acceptable as a sacrifice in the Temple, or if a bride was beautiful on her wedding day. It was a philosophical argument about the meaning of life and death.
The School of Hillel said: “It is better for man to have been created than not to have been created.” The School of Shammai said: “It is better for man not to have been created than to have been created.”
The School of Shammai, which rarely won arguments felt that when you think about it, life is too tough. Why bother to even be here?
The School of Hillel felt differently. Yes, but life has its joys and its celebrations. Isn’t it better that we’re here? Why not make a difference while we’re here?
Finally, after 2 1/2 years, they finally came to an agreement. The School of Hillel finally gave in: It is indeed better for man not to have been created. But the passage ends by saying: however, since we have been created, it is our obligation to live and to perform mitzvot.
End of story.
So, maybe we can learn something from Hillel and Shammai and the 1st Great Debate. Instead of counting the “Zingers” and playing the Drinking Games, maybe we all–on both sides of the aisle–need to put our scorecards down so we can really listen to the debates. I think that it would be a completely different election if we did that rather than focus on the guy that was left standing at the end.
Growth happens where we hold our positions humbly, aware that no one is always right.