The rabbis of the Talmud write, “There are seventy faces to the Torah: Turn it around and around, for everything is in it” (Bamidbar Rabba 13:15).
In theory, this message of coexistence at the core of our religious beliefs is helpful when living in fractioned Israel/Palestine, a zone with infinite truths, and often conflicting narratives: all are true, and none are complete.
In practice, seeing many truths and holding all of them is difficult to say the least. “It is almost inconceivable to hold within yourself at the same time the possibility hesed and hate. What does God want from us?” says Yael Krieger, 26, who was supposed to have been in Bethlehem on a listening project with a group of 50 rabbinical students and Jewish educators the day of the shooting at Mercaz haRav. Trying to accept the 70 faces is paralyzing—like watching 70 televisions simultaneously.
Despite the rabbis’ universalistic tone, their comment allows for boundaries. “There are 70 faces of Torah—but not 71” says Rabbi David Levin-Kruss, an Israeli citizen originally from South Africa, and a teacher at Pardes Institute of Jewish studies in Jerusalem. 70, and not 71—many, but not infinite ways to serve God.
Taking a different approach to the quote by focusing on the second half—the turning not the faces—is Encounter, an organization that exposes American Jews from across the religious and political spectrum to Muslims, Christians and Jews in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. At its core, Encounter is not about clarifying the boundary between face 70 and 71, or finding the Solution to the peace conflict. Rather, Encounter emphasizes the truth of a method. Their process is based on a foundation of deep listening, openness, and the creation of a safe space in which one can hear narratives of the Other, and integrate their stories with one’s own.
This method allows one to see many truths about God, history, politics, religion, hold all of them at the same time, and turn them around and around and around. As the rabbis say, the turning is enough in and of itself, for everything is in it.
Becca Linden was a 2008 Fellow at the PresenTense Institute, where she worked to model a new philanthropic structure families can use to encourage a tzedekah consciousness, the Rivkah and Yaacov Lifchitz Philanthropy.04.