Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Real Meaning of Peace

by Rabbi Chaim Ingram

The Amidah prayer, recited thrice daily, encompasses requests for the fulfilment of all our fondest hopes and aspirations. Yet not until the very last blessing do we ask G-D for peace (sim shalom). Indeed the word shalom appears nowhere else either in the weekday or in the Shabbat Amidah. It appears as though any sentiment expressing peace has been purposefully set aside until the very end. The burning question is – why?

Assuredly the reason cannot be that peace is unimportant in Judaism. To the contrary, it is one of the three pillars on which the world endures [Avot 1:18]. We may answer, on a straightforward level, that since peace is the ultimate blessing its request is reserved until last.

But there is assuredly a deeper idea here. Our sages wanted us to be aware of exactly to what type of peace our tradition aspires before we request it.

Is it a type of peace that transcends all rational thought, that supersedes all well-thought-out strategy? No! The first petition we utter every day in the Amidah is a plea to be granted “knowledge, understanding and seichel, wisdom (or common-sense)”. The peace for which we ask must be predicated on rational thinking.

May we ask for peace in the world arena if we have not yet striven for wholeness within ourselves? No! In the third request of the Amidah we ask for forgiveness for our sins. This obliges us to search out our faults and our failings from within ourselves before even imagining that we can seek the elusive goal of peace among ourselves and among the family of nations.

May we pray for peace which is not grounded in justice and righteousness? No! In the eighth request of the Amidah we cry “restore our judges and advisors”, let it be our religious leaders who stand at the helm and preach justice and truth – then we shall understand for what we pray when we ask for peace.

Can we request peace without acknowledging our right to the land of Israel? No! “Sound the great shofar for our freedom” we cry out in the tenth berakha “and gather us together from the four corners of the earth le-artseinu, to our land. When we realise that Erets Yisrael is our land the title-deeds to which rest in the Five Books of Moses, then we will know to what kind of peace we aspire.

Can we ask for peace without staking our eternal claim to Jerusalem? No! “Return in mercy to Jerusalem Your city and let your Shechina rest there as You have spoken” we pray in the fourteenth blessing. We ask for it to be rebuilt as a binyan olam, an eternal city with an eternal Temple in which the eternal people can worship the Eternal G-D. Only then can we begin to talk about shalom.

Perhaps most remarkably of all, even the penultimate blessing of thanksgiving for Heavenly grace, modim anakhnu lakh, precedes the ultimate blessing for peace.

I would venture to suggest that the reason might be: shalom is not something for which we either have to petition or to thank G-D. Rather shalom is an ineluctable consequence of all the other blessings falling into place. Being granted knowledge, understanding, wisdom, forgiveness, wellbeing, the wherewithal to aspire to a just society in our own land, and in Jerusalem, G-D’s capital city - for all these things we thank G-D “whose name is All-Good”. The corollary of the fulfilment of all these blessings will be the shalom to which Judaism aspires. The final piece of the jigsaw whose placing is inevitable. Shalom stems from a Hebrew root meaning ‘to be complete’. Shalom must therefore be founded on the complete realisation of all the blessings mentioned heretofore.

In the closing chapters of Sefer Bemidbar, the Book of Numbers, we read about Pinchas. Zealously he defends the honour of G-D by slaying the two ringleaders in the unprecedented orgy that was taking place between the Israelite men and the Moabite women. He consults no sage, not even Moses. Instead he acts unilaterally. His drastic action was not something anyone could contemplate in any normal situation. Yet in this abnormal situation, Pinchas’s zeal calls forth this response from G-D: “Behold I am giving him b’riti shalom, my complete covenant, my covenant of Peace!”

Pinchas, the ultimate zealot, is acclaimed by G-D as a man of shalom. Indeed our sages declare Pinchas zu Eliahu, the same soul that animated Pinchas is present in Elijah the prophet who will announce the final and complete Redemption.

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