Off the Pulpit

What Our Adversaries Teach

Right before Moses strikes the rock, the sin that will prevent him from entering the land of Israel, he yells at the people: “Listen now, rebels (hamorim)” [Num. 20:10]. Yet that same word, morim, can mean “teachers.”

Our antagonists can also be our teachers. The Rabbis have long taught what psychologists advise as well: When someone irritates you, annoys you, infuriates you, there is a lesson in that experience. We are often resistant to learning from people we don’t like or statements we find oppositional. But sometimes the measure of our resistance is also a measure of the importance of the lesson.

In Pirke Avoth, Ben Zoma counsels: “Who is wise? One who learns from everyone.” It is easy to learn from those we like. Yet sometimes the lessons of our antagonists are the longest lasting.