A dilemma is frequently encountered upon embarking on a journey into the world of Torah learning. Whilst intending to encounter “The Truth”, we find instead a myriad of conflicting opinions- with every issue a machloket. The one-andonly Truth we pursued seems lost in a muddle of alternative possibilities. How can there be the possibility of difference opinions, when there is only one divinely revealed Truth?
The Rambam in his Introduction to the Mishnah addresses this issue. He begins by limiting the scope of machloket; Machlokot occur only in one area of the Torah, that is, the area determined by logical extrapolations. He explains that there are two types of Mitzvot of the Torah:
- Halachot leMoshe miSinai, and:
- ii) Halachot derived by the 13 midot i.e., the 13 laws of logical extrapolation that were given to Moshe on Sinai.
Regarding the former category, halachot leMoshe miSinai- there are no machlokot. The halachot are clear and there are no differing opinions. An example of such a halachot is that of the color of the Tefillin straps. All agree that they should be black However, it is in the latter category, halachot derived from 13 midot, that machlokot arise.
Although the extent of the problem is hereby reduced, the nature of the issue is still unexplained. How can there be machloket where there is a single Truth? Specifically in the world of Torah logic, why do disagreements arise? We will attempt an explanation as follows: At the end of Parashat Bereishit, HaShem observes the degenerated state of the world He has created and comments “Every inclination of man’s heart, was only for evil, all day long” Based on this perception, HaShem decides in the following verses to “obliterate humanity… from the face of the earth-man, livestock, land animals and birds of the sky. I regret that I created them.” (ch6, vs5-7)
After the Great Flood in Parashat Noach 9;21, G-d smells the fragrance of Noach’s offering and comments “Never again will I curse the soil because of man, for the inclination of man’s heart is evil from his youth. I will never again strike down all life as I have just done.”
In these two verses, an interesting situation is illustrated. In the first case, based on G-d’s perception of man’s inclination as evil, he decides to destroy the world, whereas in the second case, based on the very same perception of man’s inclination as evil, G-d decides to sustain the world.
What emerges is that from the same basic truth, two contradictory conclusions emerge, each true and correct for the situation and time it addresses. And so it is with all the machlokot and differences of opinion in the Torah; each conclusion is based on the same truth, but since each applies to a different situation or time, the conclusions are different or even contradictory.
Thus, One Divine Truth produces machloket.