Sunday, February 26, 2012

Pathway Nine. UNITY: Four types of gatherings

         The Talmud lists four types of gatherings central to Jewish life. Each type has a unique and valuable way of contributing to a Jewish community.
The first gathering is called Degulin – flags. It involves people coming together in celebration of their common purpose and ideology. For a Jew this is obviously Torah related. It is referred to as ‘flags’ because a flag is waved as a symbol of pride in one’s country or cause; exactly the nature of this gathering: a proud celebration of Torah.
One of the main advantages of this gathering is that people feel a part of a movement much larger than themselves. Furthermore, because those present share a common dream and a common purpose they offer each other encouragement and mutual support. Each individual walks away with greater esteem, and a strengthening of commitment to Torah. Material and emotional security is also heightened because the individual feels part of a supportive community.
The second gathering, Makshivim – listening, entails a speaker addressing an audience. The size of the audience and the number of speakers may vary from an ordinary class with one teacher to a stadium full of people listening to a variety of speakers. As the name suggests, the main part of this gathering is that people listen attentively and absorb Torah teachings.
The advantages of this gathering are quite obvious. Firstly, people learn Torah law and are inspired by motivational speakers. Furthermore, by teaching Torah to others, the scholar stabilizes Torah teachings within the world. For if only a few people have a particular understanding of Torah and they pass away, their unique Torah tradition leaves the world with them. If, however, they teach the tradition to many others, they anchor it within the world.              
The third gathering, Nochim – resting, involves discussion groups. Here rather than one person speaking to an audience, a subject or an issue is raised and the people present contribute ideas related to the subject. Each idea introduced is expanded upon by everybody present, with people providing examples and explanations, or discussing the implications of the ideas.
Through this process all of the input from the people present is pooled together to form a body of understanding which no individual present could have arrived at on his own. And yet, every member of the group benefits from the totality of that understanding. This process can be compared to three individuals who each have a candle. On their own each has weak light. However, if all three people decide to combine their candles together they produce a much stronger light which all three people benefit from.
The name, Nochim, is suitable for this type of discussion because elaboration/expansion of a topic through discussion allows the topic to be thoroughly grasped and to settle within the minds of the participants. When, however, a concept is not thoroughly elaborated upon, even if understood, it remains highly abstract and obscure. A further reason for the title is the relaxed nature of the discussions. The intention behind them is not to debate issues, an exercise involving much tension and strain, but to calmly expand upon a given subject.
Mechadedin, sharpening, the final type of gathering, and by far the most dynamic, involves debating an issue. The title Mechadedin, is descriptive of the outcome of such energetic interaction. Our sages teach that when two Torah scholars debate the meaning of a teaching, or the application of a law, they sharpen their minds and their understanding of the teachings much like two pieces of iron are sharpened by being struck against each other.
Perhaps the most remarkable feature of this type of gathering is its conduciveness to creativity. The notion that opposition facilitates creativity is learned from the biblical verse, “And G-d made for him [Adam] a helpmate against him [Eve]”. Because she is against him, state the mystics, she helps him. Simply put, two people of the same gender are incapable of procreation, neither two men nor two women. Only when two people from opposite genders unite is procreation made possible.
The same principle applies in the spiritual sphere. If two people have the same or similar opinions about a matter then there is little more to be said. But if they disagree each has to bring support for his own view which results in many novel ideas. As our sages state, “when an olive is pressed it produces oil, and when a Jew is pressed he produces wisdom.” On account of the opposition each party discovers insight concerning his own perspective.

Furthermore, when both opposing parties appear to make sense, they attempt to work out how both opinions may be true when they appear to be contradictory. This often results in a third perspective which bridges both opinions and provides a resolve. This third opinion is a direct product of the creative tension characteristic of a debate.
Creativity brings people close to the divine because it offers an experience of the endless nature of Divine wisdom; for there is no limit to the number of insights that one can experience and the novelty that they offer. Furthermore, as mentioned, novel insight is what enables two apparently contradictory and mutually exclusive views to become united and harmonized. Through creativity the unity of G-d is thus revealed to all present.  
The creativity involved in this type of gathering helps us further understand the suitability of its name. The word Mechadedin also implies surprise, as in the verse, “Vyichad Yitro” and Yitro was surprised”. Surprise involves experiencing something unexpected.  Creative insight which is always unexpected typically evokes astonishment and surprise.

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