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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

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Divisions among people are never good

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Rabbi Avram Rothman

The midrash in the parashah of Bereshit notes that on the second day of Creation, the Torah doesn’t use the expression “ki tov” (it was good). In fact, the second day of creation is the only day that doesn’t close with the statement that what was created that day was good.

On all the other days, the Torah says that “God saw that it was good.”

Why would that day not be considered good?

The midrash explains that on the second day, God created the firmament that divided between the water above and the water below.

This, the midrash explains, was the day God introduced division (machloket) into the world. “If a machloket that is for the establishment of the world isn’t ‘good,’ certainly a machloket that isn’t for such a lofty purpose, but is just to create disunity and arguments, is not good.”

A truer statement was never made. Fighting, arguments and divisions between people are not good – not in our eyes and not in God’s.

There is an obvious problem with this midrash: this was neither the only nor the first division during Creation. Another division was created a day earlier – on the first day. “And God divided between the light and the dark.”

So God created machloket on the first day as well. He separated light and darkness. But despite the division, the Torah says, “And God saw that it was good.”

It’s necessary to divide between light and dark, as shown on the first day of creation. There we must divide. However, on the second day, the division is quite distinct from the division created on the first day. That day, the Almighty draws a firm line between two distinctly different things: good and evil, right and wrong, light and dark.

On the second day, we see a division between two things that are exactly the same – water and water. Here the midrash teaches that to cause a division between two of the same thing is not at all good. To divide between water and water, even if necessary, cannot be considered good.

Why is that?

To separate people – different races, genders, cultures – is setting up a division between two like things – human beings.

On the second day, God divided the upper and the lower waters. This was not a case of good water and bad water, or of true water and false water. This was a case of making a division between two equally valid things. Regarding such a division, we don’t say, “It was good”.

A division was necessary, but there is no “ki tov,” because there’s no reason to have machloket between water and water.

The midrash teaches that the division created on the second day between two like things is not good. Likewise, when it comes to people, machloket – hatred and fighting – is not good.

Dividing people is never good, not when the world was in its infancy and not today. May we find ways to unite and rid the Jewish People of the divisions, mistrust and hatred that separate us from each other.

Rabbi Avram Rothman is the spiritual leader of the Thornhill Community Shul and Ginzburg Learning Centre in Thornhill

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