Several years ago, my family and I took an RV trip for our summer vacation. It was, in many ways, a complete disaster. We were packed into a tiny house on wheels with no personal space, staying in RV parks miles from any conveniences of Jewish life. To cap it all off, there was a pretty hideous malfunction with the van’s sewage system that is probably best not elaborated on.
But as difficult as it was, that trip is one of the best memories I have of spending time with my family. So much so, that before we made aliyah this summer, we decided to “run it back” and do one last RV trip. Yes, it was still cramped and more than a little smelly – but it didn’t disappoint. The experience was just as awesome as I remembered it being.
Which leads me to the following, fairly obvious, question. Given all of the challenges, why was this trip so transformative?
I think it’s because collectively challenging experiences demand compromise. As we faced the difficulties of our trip, my family had no choice but to come together, so that we could all make it through the journey successfully. (And with our sanity intact!) We had no choice but to negotiate acceptable space-sharing in the confines of the RV. We had no choice but to follow the rules of each RV park, compromising for the sake of the collective.
Compromise meant sacrifice, yes. But through that sacrifice, my family discovered that our differences could combine to make a harmony not achievable on our own.
We often think of compromise as synonymous with imperfection. We view concessions as evidence of failure, approaching conflicts large and small with an “all or nothing” point of view. But I’ve started to feel that the discomfort of compromise is actually something to celebrate. We’re all human, and it’s understandable that concessions don’t always come naturally. But I think it’s worth shifting our thinking, recasting the messy and occasionally disappointing process of compromise as part of its success — as the ideal state that leads to a collective win, rather than an individual victory.
We’ve seen this in action on the political stage just recently. The recent deal normalizing relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates has left both sides of the deal with stings to their pride and incomplete goals. Many Israelis feel that the deal is an unacceptable passing up of a historic opportunity to annex much of the West Bank while many see this as a “normalizing” or tacitly approving of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. Universal is the sense that the deal, while momentous, is imperfect,
I don’t mean to minimize concerns about this new arrangement, but I think it’s worth stepping back and recognizing the significance of this compromise. There now exists a bond of mutual responsibility between two nations where just weeks ago, there was only antipathy. In cooperating with, and even embracing the very real discomfort of compromise, Israel has gained a partner. That process was painful for both sides, but with the relationship established, both countries can begin to work for greater ends that benefit the entire region.
The idea that compromise requires and is strengthened by a degree of pain is illustrated by a point from Rabbi Elyakim Krumbein. Rabbi Krumbein asks why two different reasons are given in Parshat Shoftim and Parshat Ki Teiztei for the release of a newlywed man from the dangers of army service. Parshat Shoftim, speaking of a man who is engaged, gives deference to the groom himself and his own desire to experience the happiness so close at hand. Parshat Ki Teitzei, however, offers reasoning on behalf of the new wife — it is she who is owed the first year of marital joy, and she who should not be cheated of this opportunity by her husband’s premature death.
According to Rabbi Krumbein, the two reasonings reflect the compromise demanded in forming a relationship. It’s reasonable for people entering a relationship to put themselves first. But once the couple becomes a formal unit, that self-centeredness must be negotiated down. The groom must compromise his own desires, putting his wife’s concerns and rights before his own, even if it is uncomfortable.
I don’t think it’s a mistake that the Torah presents the groom with the theoretical choice between married life and war. Marriage and the compromise that it demands are profound challenges that require time and effort. Like war, marriage demands sacrifice and pain to achieve the desired peaceful outcome.
The relationship between fractious states is not all that different. In both cases, it is the struggle which forges the connection on which future successes are based. As in marriage, there can be no ideal state without compromise.
I don’t need to tell you that we live in fractious and divided times, where competition between ideas often turns into all-out ideological war. It’s hard to act against this tide, to view compromise as a strength instead of a weakness. But I think it is essential that we begin to implement the ideal of compromise in our everyday lives, whether that demands a concession in our family lives or an acceptance of political disappointment.
Maybe it’s too grand to say that our future depends on this, but I think it’s true. I certainly know that my family would not have survived — much less gotten stronger in — that hectic, crowded, sardine-like week in an RV without compromise. We are members of a local, national, and global community, and we are all striving to make that collective as successful and harmonious as possible. That might, in fact probably will, require discomfort as we prioritize, debate, and accept concessions. But we owe it to each other to share this discomfort and give compromise a try.