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Thought for the Day: Eilu v'Eilu Divrei Elokim Chayim

There are all sorts of jokes (mostly stemming from the non-religious yiddish literature, I think) that about the talmudic process.  They basically following the same format:
Two talmidim are embroiled in a heated debate and finally decide to go to the rosh yeshiva for clarity.  "Rebbi," says the first talmid, "I say the gemara means X; and I can prove it because of Y!"  "Hmmm," says the rosh yeshiva, "You are right."  The second talmid balks, "But Rebbi!  I say the gemara means A; and I can prove it because of B!"  "Ahh," says the rosh yeshivah, "You are right."  They both look astonished and a third talmid who had overheard the whole things exclaims, "But Rebbi!  They can't both be right!"  "Exactly!" beams the rosh yeshivah, "You are also right!"
That, I fear, is the outsiders view of "eilu v'eilu divrei elokim chayim."  The truth of the matter, however, is that contradictions and paradoxes actually offer the greatest (perhaps the only) access to the underlying spiritual reality that the physical reality reflects.

Howso?  Imagine walking into a university logic class and being told that you have two eye witnesses who saw the shadow of a certain object. One says the shadow is circular and one says it is rectangular.  You are told they are both excellent observers and they never lie.  Moreover, it is certain that there is only one object casting a shadow.  How can that be?  A circle and a rectangle are as different as can be!

The answer, of course, is that the object could be an ordinary can of soda.  If it is upright at noon, the shadow will be circular; on its side, rectangular.  So they are both right; both accurate descriptions.  The root cause of the "contradiction" is trying to describe a three dimensional reality with two dimensional shapes.  That means that there is no "one" true description.  There are many, many true descriptions; as many s there are different ways to look at the can.

The issue for the torah sh'b'al peh is much more complex.  First there is the problem if trying to describe concepts from a world of unbounded dimensions with words and examples that are bound to our world of finite dimensions.  Second, though, we are trying to describe a world we have never seen and can barely (if at all) imagine.  That is also why the gemara is so careful to clarify who has what opinion -- each perspective provides a consistent point of view.  Every "contradiction" actually brings out a new facet of that underlying reality.  Every paradox a richer appreciation.


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