DIVREI TORAH

My Spouse and I Disagree – That’s a Problem But That’s Also a Solution!

You and your spouse may have grown up speaking different languages.

Those different languages may have been different spoken languages.

One of you may have spoken English. The other may have spoken Hebrew.

Or they may have been different emotional or social languages.

A husband may have grown up in an emotionally expressive home. While a wife may be unaccustomed to such modes of expression.

And that may – at least partially – explain why the two of you have different perspectives on a range of issues. Why those different perspectives? Because you have linguistic or cultural differences.

Truth be told, these differences display themselves in any cursory comparison of languages.

Let’s make one such comparison. Let’s do that by analyzing the different German and Hebrew words for “nation.”

Germans call a nation, “folk.” Folk sounds like “folgen” - which is the German word for follow. The correlation between folk and folgen indicates that Germans view nationhood - being a folk – as about folgen, i.e., following a leader.

Germans do, indeed, view nationhood as about coalescing around a leader. That view has brought order and affluence to Germany. That view, though, also let many Germans follow their leader into the Holocaust.[1]

Jewish nationhood, on the other hand, isn’t so leader-centric. It, rather, centers on working with peers.[2]

Our non-leader-centric perspective is seen in our word for nation, which is עם (am). עם (am) contains just the two Hebrew letters ע (ayin) ם (mem). Those two letters (just with different vowels) also form the word “im” - which means “with” in Hebrew.

Our language correlates the words “nation” and “with.” Why? Because our nationhood is more about working “with” peers than about following a leader.[3]

This bit of linguistic analysis demonstrates that different words express different perspectives on nationhood.

What’s true of nation is also true of other words. As those who analyze language demonstrate,[4] so many other words and expressions demonstrate different perspectives.

These different perspectives create division and disagreements. And that causes problems between spouses, family members and nations.

These differences, then, have a terrible downside.

And that’s why Hashem, at least initially, tried limiting those differences. How? By creating a world where everyone spoke the same language.

It’s the following verse: “And the whole, world (right after creation) was of one language and one viewpoint[5]

Yes, early humanity was unified. They weren’t, therefore, given to division and strife.

Where, though, did all that unity lead?

To the following story: “It was when the world was of one language and of one mindset… they [all] rejected Hashem … and …said let us build an… [idolatrous] tower.” [6]

This story isn’t just about an idolatrous tower. It’s, rather, about an idol where “they [all] rejected Hashem” - without anyone dissenting. And it’s a story that occurred, the verse notes, because they were of “one language and one mindset” – because their unity suffocated the individualism that could counter different perspectives. And people who aren’t offered different perspectives all follow the same Pied Piper - even towards idolatry.[7]

This story, then, highlighted unity’s downside. And that, in turn, highlighted the need to prevent that downside from arising again. Which is why Hashem began increasing human innate individuation.[8]

People were implanted with different natures and temperaments that flowered into different perspectives and languages. That differentiation, in turn, created individualists who counter conventional practices. All of which led to rebellion against - and the collapse of - the tower project.

All this may be read into the following verse: “[Hashem said] let us….confuse their languages so that they don’t understand each other...”.[9] It’s the description of the dawn of individuation of language and perspectives.

Those differences still divide nations, communities and families. Those differences still foment arguments and wars.

But those differences also create an individualism that lets us question one another’s decisions. And that lets us deconstruct sacred cows. And that curtails mistakes.

Our differences, then, are also blessings.

Husbands and wives can offer countering perspectives on one another’s choices. And by doing that they can help their spouses - and themselves. And family members and friends can enrich one another with different understandings.

Yes, we and our spouses may disagree with one another.

That can be a problem.

That can also be a solution.

[1] See Daniel Goldhagen, Hitler’s Willing Executioners, Alfred A. Knopf 1996

[2] Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, Bereishis, 11:7

[3] Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, Bereishis 11:7

[4] See World Economic Forum, Education, Does the language you speak change your view of the world? Apr 28, 2015

[5] Bereishis 11:1

[6] Bereishis 11:1, see Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch ad. loc.

[7] Bereishis Rabba 38

[8] Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch ad. loc.

[9] Bereishis 11:8

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