IN OUR WORLD today, we are faced with ever-escalating arguments between people with sharply opposing points of view. Extremes battle extremes, rhetoric blazing, each side convinced that it has a monopoly on truth and that the other side is the embodiment of lies.
Unfortunately, such arguments usually produce more heat than light. Each side hardens into its position, and progress on the underlying issue is brought to a screeching halt.
In such a world, I believe that Jewish tradition has something to teach us about how to regard points of view that differ sharply from our own, and it comes down to one little Hebrew phrase: davar acher.
This short phrase is used in Jewish traditional texts whenever one rabbi or sage proposes an interpretation of the Holy Scripture that differs sharply from what came before. These words signal that the interpretation that follows comes from a different point of view - it may completely contradict the understanding that was previously offered, even if the two conflicting interpretations actually come from the same person. The literal translation of the phrase is "another thing," but its meaning runs far deeper than that. I might translate it, "Here's another way of looking at things."
One of the best examples of how this phrase might be used comes in looking at the beginning of the Bible. In Genesis, when we read of the creation of the world, we are told that God created human beings on the sixth day, "male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27). But reading further, we find what seems to be a completely different story of creation - a davar acher, a different way of looking at things. In this second story, "God formed man from the dust of the earth" (Genesis 2:7), but woman was made from Adam's rib (Genesis 2:22), and both of them were placed in a garden, met a snake, and . . . well, you know the rest.
What are we to make of these two stories of creation that seem to flatly contradict each other? As a student once asked me, "Rabbi, which one of them is the truth?"
My answer? "Both!" The first story is one way of looking at things, teaching that man and woman are completely equal. And - davar acher - the second story is another way of looking at things, teaching that man and woman are different and distinct. Each has a unique perspective. Both are Scripture. Both are truth.
Of course, people may still disagree about the stories' meaning or argue over which is more important.
So I want to offer to our world the lesson of davar acher. Disagreement and argument can be productive, even holy, but only if we can acknowledge that ours is only one point of view.
God knows truth is far too big to be the exclusive property of one person or one group. And we all know that we need all the different points of view we can get if we are to have hope of solving the immense problems facing our world.