I want to go back to the Talmudic story at this point, because I believe how the story unfolds can guide us as to how we might achieve this sense of passion, dedication and loyalty in our times.
So the students of Hillel and Shammai, two schools of thought concerning Jewish law, continue debating for three years and then the Talmud says, A bat kol a voice from God came forth and said eilu veilu divray elohim chaim hen, meaning both these and these are the words of the living God. This is amazing. God is the one who gets fed up with the fight! God cant take it anymore and says enough is enough. Both of you are right. You both have legitimate approaches to law and life.
But the story doesnt stop there. The bat kol, or voice of God continues, vhalacha cvait Hillel, meaning but the halachah goes according to the arguments of house of Hillel. And why is this, asks the Talmud? Why does Jewish law, with only a few exceptions, follow the rulings of the house of Hillel, even though the House of Shammais arguments are just as legitimate, and even worthy of being called words of the living God? Because, continues the Talmud, the students of Hillel do three things: first, the are nochin, meaning they are pleasant people; second they are aluvin, they are humble; and third they work to fully understand Shammais arguments and present them before their own reasoning.
Think of the implications of this teaching on our lives today. Why did they argue for three years? Because they saw each other as insiders. Its why Chabad was in front of the Starbucks on Sunset on Rosh HaShannah morning asking people if they are Jewish and if they want to hear the shofar. No matter how much they see you and me as having gone astray, as being in total defiance of the law, were still on the inside.
Eilu veilu divray elohim chaim hen - both these and these are the words of the living God. Another implication is that if we take what the Talmud says seriously, and I do, then there is no truth with a capital T. Being right is not the goal. Rather the goal is remaining engaged in the discussion; its about loyalty and commitment. Ive shared with you before that I dont believe Judaism is The Truth, with a capital T. Ive even turned away a potential convert to Judaism because he sat in my office and said that he thought Judaism was The Truth. I told him I couldnt study with him. That I didnt believe Judaism was The Truth. That each religion has different approaches to lifes mysterious questions, but that Judaism is my choice of answers.
In fact, many people who come to me for conversion often say that one of the things that attracts them to Judaism is the importance of debate and disagreement - which when done like Hillel and Shammai with respect and kindness - assumes a sense of humility. Ask two Jews a question and get five answers. But this isnt just a joke. Our ancient texts live by this value. Open up a page of Talmud and youll see the central text in the middle of the page surrounded by a minimum of 5 commentators through out the ages all telling you what he thinks the text means. Its great. What humility. No one says Im right. This is what things mean or how one should think. Not even the editor who put them all on the same page.