classical painting of moses striking the rock
Jacopo Tintoretto, Moses Striking the Rock (Wikimedia Commons)

What Our Adversaries Teach 

Judaism teaches us to learn from our enemies.

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 (ha-morim)” [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 Avot, 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.

Rabbi David Wolpe’s musings are shared in My Jewish Learning’s Shabbat newsletter, Recharge, a weekly collection of readings to refresh your soul. Sign up to receive the newsletter.

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