Before I tell you about a big yellow full moon hanging low in the sky on a balmy summer evening, I have to tell you about a letter I recently received.
Dear Rabbi Lapin,
I have followed you and taken your advice on my marriage and my business for seven years now. I owe you a debt of gratitude because many things you advised went against my instincts but I followed them anyway with great results. My wife and my relationship has been thriving and business has been prospering. But I am now disconnecting from you and will no longer be reading your material or listening to your podcast. The reason is because I just discovered that you voted for President Trump. I want nothing to do with anyone who thinks that man is a good president. You should know better as a rabbi.
[name withheld for privacy]
I wrote back to him, probably in much the same style you would have if you were in my shoes.
Of course, I have heard of close family members who no longer talk to one another on account of disagreement about our president. I have watched the Democrats, from my perspective, behave embarrassingly in their frantic and furious attempts to undo the results of the 2016 presidential election. And I understand that many Americans have precisely the opposite perspective. I suspect I will even lose readers over this Thought Tool.
Some Americans think that Mr. Trump is, without a doubt, the very worst president in a long time. Many others, including me, think that on the basis of decisions he’s made and actions he’s taken during the first 36 months of his presidency, history might well regard him as one of America’s best presidents. We surely can’t both be right.
Some think that love of one’s country is a primitive emotion now superseded by a broader and more sophisticated concern for all countries and all people of the world. Many others, like me, see patriotism as necessary and as obvious as the idea of loving your own family more than you love strangers. We can’t both be right.
Many think of marriage as an old fashioned living arrangement now made irrelevant by newer acceptance of the many alternatives. Others, like me, feel sure that a society without marriage is not long for the stage of world history. We can’t both be right.
Some think that abortion on demand is just another of the freedoms hard-won by feminists while others like me feel that practice to be a dark and indelible stain on the national soul. We can’t both be right.
This all begs the question of just how can so many intelligent, educated and thoughtful citizens of one country have such wildly different views on so many important issues? Fortunately, the Bible provides an answer.
You’ll probably recognize this verse:
God made the two great lights. The big light to dominate the day
and the small light to dominate the night…
Ancient Jewish wisdom makes two observations on this verse. (1) The verse is really made up of two parts with the equivalent of a period mark called an etnachta marking ‘the two great lights’ as the end of the first. (2) The first part tells us that the sun and moon were of the same size—they were in fact, ‘two great lights’; large and equal. The second part seems to contradict this by identifying the big sun and the small moon.
What could this apparent contradiction mean? Part one tells us that the sun and moon were of the same size while part two informs us of a large sun and small moon. They can’t both be right, can they?
Well, it turns out that the heavens contain a remarkable coincidence. (Yes, you regular Thought Tool readers already know that there is no such word.) It turns out that the sun covers up exactly the same amount of sky as the moon. Because of this strange fact, solar eclipses exist. So precisely can the moon cover the sun that during a perfect eclipse the disc of the sun is exactly obscured by the disc of the moon, allowing the carefully protected observer to see the dramatic solar flares leaping just outside the black disc of the moon.
What makes this so interesting is that the diameter of the sun is about 400 times larger than that of the moon. Yet, we perceive the moon to be the same size as the sun because it is about 400 times (actually 390) times closer to us here on Earth than is the sun. The moon’s closer distance makes up for its smaller size and thus both bodies subtend just about the same angle at the human observer’s eye.
In this Thought Tool, I am not discussing what messages God is teaching us by making the sun and moon this way. What I am describing is the lesson that Genesis 1:16 is teaching us about the phenomenon of perspective.
“God made the two great lights.” – Yes, that’s right. From our human perspective here on earth, they appear to be the same size.
“The big light to dominate the day and the small light to dominate the night.”— Yes, that’s also right. From the perspective of absolute measurement, the sun is far larger than the moon.
In other words, people can disagree over what appear to be contradictory facts if their perspective is different. If each side starts with its own presumptions and suppositions, they will end up with different interpretations of the same facts.
One possible set of perspectives about the president might be that some believe in the goodness of government while others fear its size and reach. Those possessing the first perspective might well see Mr. Trump’s disdain for politicians and suspicion of today’s government bureaucracy to be vile and reprehensible. Or they may feel that the dignity and solemnity of the office of president is offended by Mr. Trump’s tweets and unrestrained style of debate. Meanwhile, from an entirely different perspective, there are those who view him as uniquely qualified for this time in history precisely because he is not beholden to previous norms. They are grateful for his presidency and cheer him on.
Those who see themselves as world citizens, whose perspective has much in common with the lyrics of John Lennon’s Imagine “Imagine there’s no countries, It isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for, And no religion, too…” possess an entirely different perspective from those who feel a lump rise in their throat upon hearing thousands of enthusiastic patriots singing, “What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming…” Similarly, marriage, abortion, and dozens of other contentious issues cleave America’s population into two. While we can comfortably debate specific policies and nuances with those who approach topics from the same perspective as we do, all our rational and logical points will have no effect on someone whose perspective is quite different.