The morning after the deflating failure of the Super Committee, a lot of us woke up asking where all the adults are. (The ones who don’t let their debt-ridden family slide off a cliff.) It must of course be that there are still some lurking somewhere in the halls of Congress, and with hope and faith, we humbly offer them the strength and inspiration offered on page 6b of Tractate Sanhedrin.
On that page, the moral propriety of compromise is hotly debated. Rabbi Eliezer the son of Rabbi Yose the Galilean maintains that it is forbidden to broker a compromise. “He who brokers compromise thus offends, for it is written…. ‘For judgment is God’s’. And so Moses’s motto was: Let the law cut through the mountain.” According to Rabbi Eliezer, unbending commitments to truth and principle are essential to a person’s integrity and fidelity to God.
But the Talmudic discussion doesn’t end with Rabbi Eliezer and Moses. “Aaron, however, loved peace and pursued peace and made peace between man and man.” From Aaron’s example Rabbi Joshua son of Korha derived that, “brokering a compromise is a meritorious act, for it is written, ‘Execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates’. What is that kind of justice which coexists with peace? This is compromise.”
“The halacha”, the Talmud concludes, “is in agreement with Rabbi Joshua son of Korha”.
It’s not that truth and principle aren’t valued by the Talmud. Of course they are. And it’s not that ideological commitments aren’t deemed important by the Talmud. They are as well. It’s rather that in this world which God created, a world filled with unique human individuals who will invariably and healthfully disagree profoundly about essential matters, peace and life are simply impossible without humane, righteously motivated compromise. This is not a news flash. Every family knows it. And our Congress used to know it too.
And while we’re offering Talmudic advice to the not-yet-existent Super-Duper Committee, let’s throw in the familiar words of Hillel. “If I don’t look out for myself, who will look out for me? But if I am only looking out for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”