It is to one’s honor to avoid strife,
but every fool is quick to quarrel. — Proverbs 20:3
I still cringe when I remember an incident that occurred in a synagogue I attended many years ago. As is the tradition in many synagogues, our community would eat the third Sabbath meal together in the synagogue. The secretary of the synagogue happened to be a member as well. One week we ran out of plastic forks, making it difficult for everyone to partake of the meal. The secretary was there, and a prominent figure in the community decided to confront her.
The member was angry about the oversight and derided the secretary for letting such a thing happen. The secretary felt horrible and instead of defending herself, simply apologized. But that was not enough for this member who continued to shout and berate the secretary in public for the offense. The ironic thing was that the one who came out of the argument looking foolish wasn’t the secretary who had forgotten to order forks; it was the member who made such a huge fuss about something as silly as plastic forks. When he came to his senses, I’m sure he felt humiliated by his own actions.
In Proverbs, King Solomon wrote: “It is to one’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel.” Most arguments stem from feelings of pride or uncontrollable anger. We want to prove our point and come out looking right. Yet, as the wise King tells us, when we fight for no good reason, we only embarrass ourselves and show the world our ugly side. Yet, when we have enough self-restraint and self-esteem to refrain, we are showered with honor and peace.
I once heard the idea put this way: A bulldog can whip a skunk any day of the week, but sometimes it realizes that the fight just isn’t worth the stink. We can choose to engage in strife, especially when we know that we have what it takes to win the argument. But we are left with a “stink.” We are left with negativity and have only degraded ourselves in front of others. It’s simply not worth it.
The Jewish sages took the ability to step away from a fight so seriously that they declared that if one person willingly yields in a quarrel to avoid strife, it is proof that he stems from greater stock than the other person. The person who yields to the aggressor possesses greater strength than the one who chooses to fight.
We need to learn to step aside when we are tempted to enter frivolous and ultimately meaningless arguments. Next time you are about to engage in strife, ask yourself if it’s worth the “stink.” It’s probably not, and we would all be wise to avoid strife altogether.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President