Do you welcome opinions that are different to your own?

As we are in the “Three Weeks” of mourning for the destruction of our Temples, here is an empowering thought.

The Talmud (Berachot 58a) states: “Just as the faces of people do not exactly resemble one another, so too their opinions do not exactly resemble one another.” What is the comparison between faces and opinions?

Rav Shlomo Eiger (1786-1852) explains that most human beings are not disturbed or aggravated by the fact that someone’s facial features are different to theirs. We don’t condemn or criticise someone for having different colour eyes or hair than we do. We implicitly recognise that everyone is created differently and it is our differences that weave the wonderful tapestry of our interconnected lives. Similarly, we should recognise that everyone’s opinions are the result of their being created differently and raised differently. Just as someone is entitled to look different, so too are they entitled to think differently and approach things differently without harsh disapproval or condemnation.

Many of you will be familiar with the practice of taking three steps backward at the conclusion of the Amidah. The Talmud (Yoma 53) states: “The one who prays must take three steps back and only then pray for peace.” R’ Menachem Ben-Zion Zaks explains that we cannot pray for, nor achieve, peace if we are not willing to step back a little and make room for others and their opinions, their tastes and personalities.

After stepping back, we ask “oseh shalom bimromav,” God, please bring peace, and we turn to the right and to the left. Explains R’ Zaks, achieving peace and harmony means bowing towards those on the right of us and those on the left of us, not just straight ahead on our path. You see, maintaining the ability to acknowledge and respect those to the ‘right’ and ‘left’ of ourselves is a prerequisite to achieving the peace and contentment that we desperately seek. And it is the key to building warm and embracing communities and tolerant, benevolent societies.

In these days of mourning, let us take upon ourselves to be that little bit more accepting of those around us and embracing them for who they are.

Wishing you all a joyous Shabbat!

Rabbi Yossi and Chana Raizel Friedman