A few days before Tisha B’Av, two Jews who had never met each other found themselves sitting next to one another on a train. This was not unusual in 1937 Poland. What was unusual was that one was a Progressive rabbi from Krakow, and the other was a Hassidic rabbi from Warsaw. At first they sat next to each other in silence. But after an hour they both felt a need to talk, so they started discussing the meaning and significance of the election of Adolph Hitler as chancellor of Germany. Then they moved on to the negative developments among some of the political parties in Poland. From there they began to debate both Zionist and anti-Zionist politics in Poland and in the Land of Israel. Finally, they began arguing about religious issues between Orthodox and Reform Judaism. When their passions grew to strong they fell silent again, each lost in his own thoughts.
After some time had passed, the Progressive rabbi spoke:
Our conversation over the last few hours reminds me of the four sons in the Passover Haggadah, At first, when we were talking about anti-Semitism in Germany, we were largely in agreement and considered each other to be wise. When we discussed how to react to the political and economic challenges here in Poland, we frequently disagreed, and saw each other as wicked opponents. In debating the wisdom and chances of success of the Zionist movement, the gap between us grew ever larger, and we regarded each other as naïve simpletons. Finally, in arguing over religious issues, we were so far apart that we could not even ask each other honest or intelligent questions.
The Hassidic rabbi thought for several moments about what the Progressive rabbi had said, and then replied:
You are right and I thank you for a new insight into the nature of the four sons in the Haggadah. You also remind me of something my grandfather taught me when I and my younger brother had a big fight about Theodore Herzl. My grandfather pointed out that Psalm 133 teaches us that it is both good and pleasant for brothers to sit together. That it is pleasant is obvious; most members of a family enjoy each other’s company. But why is it morally good? My grandfather maintained that it is morally good when we can sit together in spite of out differences, not by ignoring them or suppressing them, but by respecting them and each other.
The Hassidic rabbi continued:
Then, my grandfather told me something his grandfather told him, that came from the mouth of the great tzadik Rabbi David of Lelov: “If you want to glue two pieces of wood together so they will become one, you must first smooth them both down. But then you have much less wood. But if you move the pieces of wood around so the bumps in one roughly fit the hollows in the other, and vice versa, then little cutting is necessary. You have a fairly good fit and more wood.” This is why it is exactly when brothers disagree strongly that it is good to be able to find a way to sit together — even if they strongly disagree.
Both rabbis smiled and shook hands.
* * *
The last paragraph was inspired by the great tzadik David of Lelov, as found in “For the Sake of Heaven,” by Martin Buber, p. 269.