Thursday, November 12, 2009

I can be humble, even if I'm right

In this week's Torah portion, Chayei Sara, our patriarch Abraham attempts to buy a plot of land on which to bury his wife, Sarah.  The negotiations between Abraham and Efron the Hittite are given in, what is for the Torah, extreme detail.  Which, as Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson notices (in the wonderful The Bedside Torah), makes it all the more interesting that Abraham leaves out one very important detail: he has already been promised this land by God.  All of the land of Israel, according to what we read earlier, will belong to Abraham and his heirs, for all time.  Why does Abraham feel the need to negotiate, at all?

Why indeed?  Aren't there people today who claim an exclusive possession of the truth, who insist that their monopoly on morality, or compassion, or divine will, allows them to slander, to slight, to distort, or to oppress?  From the liberal chic to the conservative smug, all over the world self-appointed spokespeople of the “correct” view trumpet their own infallibility and moral superiority.

It's not that Abraham doubts that this land already belongs to him.  He has, after all, been told by God – directly! —that the land is, in fact, his.  But Abraham doesn't confuse a firm belief in the truth with a license to be arrogant, and to impose that truth on others, others who might see the world differently.

Without relinquishing his own convictions, Abraham never abandoned the religious humility that accepts the possibility of being wrong.

Now, if only we can get the rest of Abraham’s descendants to see the world in the same way…


Missy said...

This is something that afflicts conservative Catholicism to a disturbing (at least to me) degree. Apparently, there is only one truth and anyone not believing that truth is going to hell, in a nutshell. That seems phenomenally arrogant to me, and doesn't at all fit with the image of a loving and forgiving God. The majority of Catholics, luckily, are far more tolerant, understanding, and accepting of differences. That probably makes them (me) "bad" Catholics, but in my mind sets a far better example of how we should relate to and treat others than those who believe it's all or nothing.

Rabbi Jason Rosenberg said...

Missy - we tend to divide the world up into Religious/non-Religious, or perhaps into non-Religious/Jewish/Christian/etc. Sometimes, that's useful. But, I've been noticing that, sometimes, the real divisions are between fundamentalists and non-fundamentalists.

The moment you're willing to admit that someone else might be right, even if you're pretty sure that they aren't, you're playing a very different game from the fanatics!