On Defending Inherent Differences by Moshe Givental

Managing Director’s Note: all Contributing Scholars begin writing by answering the following question as their first post: Why are you committed to building relationships with those from different religious or ethical traditions? Their answer to this question is below.

In his “The Dignity of Difference” Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks argues that G-d teaches us about the necessity of a diverse society in the pursuit of truth, justice, and godliness through the incident of the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9). Before reading his book I was always puzzled by the episode. Why would G-d not want us to “reach” Him/Her? Was G-d afraid of us? Was G-d trying to keep us down, like a monarch whose ego has outgrown his throne?

Rabbi Sacks argues for something much more interesting. He says that that particular attempt to work together, while praiseworthy in theory, was actually squashing the inherent differences that are such a vital part of all of our groups and identities. This is a phenomenon that repeats itself throughout history. One group decides that it has found The Truth, and even when it attempts to benevolently share that seeming truth with others, it often loses sight of, and ends up repressing, the healthy expressions of other truths. I think that this was sometimes the case for Christianity’s spreading of the Gospel, for Communism’s idealism about building an equal world, and the same for some recent American attempts for spreading our kind of Democracy throughout the world.

These attempts to reach and spread truth end up turning into the idol worship of the one fragment of truth that was indeed uncovered. It turns out that diversity of healthy beliefs and ideas is just as necessary for a healthy society to function as biological diversity. Rabbi Sacks’ theory and explanation of the necessity, vitality, and dignity of difference echoes my own personal experience. While I do not usually set out to find and connect to people who are different as a purpose in and of itself, I find my world continuously enriched by all the people I meet who are inherently and beautifully different. The more I understand another person’s differences, the more I can appreciate their struggle and dedication to live a healthy and meaningful life. This process always enriches my own appreciation for the wonder of godliness, helps me become a better person and teacher, and leaves me curious to connect more.

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