Peace: An Energy

When a pilot wants to change the course of his aircraft altering its destination and moving its large ailerons and flaps, he adjusts a small lever inside his cockpit. From this minute adjustment on his instrument panel, he can change his destination by thousands of miles. The Jewish nation is the cockpit of civilization and we too can change the course of history with minor modifications in the ways we handle ourselves (intra-personal) and the ways we interface with others (inter-personal). World peace is an example of this idea where we can accomplish macro-impact by a focus on micro-actions.

Peace is not achieved by the grand manipulation of macro national or international political forces. Governments and institutions have never been great at creating, promoting or maintaining peace. Peace is the work of individuals acting in harmony. Peace is an energy of wholeness that individuals generate and radiate to the world.  What are these micro-actions that individuals can focus on to yield an impact on peace in the world?

Two principles define the Torah’s view of peace. The first is its meaning; the second is its context.

Shalom: Its Meaning

The English word, peace, connotes a sense of equanimity and tranquility – the absence of tension and conflict, but the Hebrew word for peace, Shalom doesn’t quite mean the same. Shalom, derived from the word shaleim, means wholeness.  More than the absence of tensions, it means the balancing of tensions in ways that yield wholeness. Shalom implies the idea of harmony in which competing melodies find ways to integrate themselves into a single, holistic harmony. Harmony cannot exist in a monotonic context; harmony needs diversity. It needs the tensions of competing tones and melodies to synthesize into an integrated whole.

In the same way, a diversity of viewpoints and the tensions they engender are preconditions for shalom. Even two individuals in a personal relationship striving for the ahavat re’im (loving companionship) referred to in Vayikra 19:18 may at times need to honestly confront their differences with the hochei’ach tochiach (you shall openly censure your friend) of the previous verse. Surfacing conflict, dealing with it, allowing for apology and rectification are the ways that differing perspectives and interests can live together harmoniously. Shalom is not accomplished by passively avoiding conflict but by redifat shalom – actively pursuing peace. When, for the sake of peace, conflict is avoided, Shalom is evaded. Peace results from confronting the truth and dealing with it in a way that is respectful and dignified:

Just as differences must be acknowledged, respected and confronted in the quest for inter-personal peace, so also in the quest for inner-peace we must acknowledge the competing voices, forces and passions within us. Only by recognizing the diversity of feelings and thoughts that so often swirl around inside us can we align them harmoniously in an integrated response to a situation. Think of it, someone might challenge you in a way that makes you feel they are questioning your integrity. Instantly countless emotions and forces arise in you: anger, resentment, defensiveness, understanding, wisdom and more. Only when you are aware of all of these passions and respect their reality, can you manage them in a way that embraces your true authentic soul to respond with wholeness, authenticity and integrity. When you have created peace within yourself, you can begin to radiate peace outwards.

On a national level we also need to acknowledge, confront and respect the existence of the countless individual opinions, passions and goals that make up our nation. We must be able to have respectful conversations with people who differ from us. We must be able to express our differences, argue their validity and stand by our beliefs without compromise but also without undermining the dignity of the other. We cannot sacrifice truth on the altar of peace, but neither can we compromise dignity on the altar of truth. Truth and peace must co-exist (Zecharya 8:19) because “truth and peace are attached to one”. (Zohar I:200b)

We can argue opinions without dismissing individuals or groups. We can love the other even at the very instant we are challenging their viewpoint. We can respect difference without compromising our own individuality. We can insist on authentic Torah where we have ownership or influence while accepting that many of our community, over whom we hold no influence, have no idea what authentic Torah even means. We can teach by the way we live our values. We can influence by the caring with which we connect to others who may disagree with us. When we do this we are making the small adjustments within ourselves. Starting with the inside we impact the outside. By making adjustments in our intra-personal and inter-personal lives, that can affect the world.  This is meaning of Shalom.

Shalom: Its Context

The peace referred to in our Teffilot (prayers) refers to peace in our homes and communities, aleinu ve’al kol Yisrael, rather than to a macro-vision of world peace between nations. Our prayers are for peace among us and within us, they focus on the inside of our community not on the world.

This inward does not undermine our global vision for peace on a macro, global scale. Rather the focus on communal and national peace indicates the Torah’s view on the strategy by which to establish peace in the world and spread it. Peace, like conflict, is viral. It starts internally and then radiates outward infecting everyone in its reach with the power of its attraction. Inner peace, both inter-personal and intra-personal, shields us nationally and individually: “When Hashem grants tranquility and peace to an individual, who has the power to harm him?” (Zohar III:36b).

The current crisis in Israel shows how far internal shalom can impact events. The high degree of unity and shalom that followed the kidnapping and murder of our three boys facilitated the resolve of Israel’s leadership and inspired the morale of its soldiers. . As the Zohar (I:76b) lays it out: “When people are at one with one another, even if they defy Hashem, punishment will be suspended from them.” The subsequent chain of nissim galuyim (open miracles) that have prevented a planned holocaust by Hamas, are the outcome of this unity and this shalom.

Like so much that relates to the impact of the Jewish people and its Kedusha (sanctity) on the rest of the world, we are an inside-out nation. We act within in order to impact with-out. Our focal point for world peace is inward; the outcome is outward.

Peace is a macro-idea with far-reaching ramifications that can span the globe. However, like the pilot focused on his instruments to effect external change, the way to accomplish this global peace is in the intimate space of intra-personal and inter-personal peace: peace within us and peace amongst us.  Peace in the world is achieved though the consistent pursuit of inner-peace, family peace and peace within our communities. This is the way of the inside-out nation.

Peace: How to Build it

Ego and self-interest destroy peace. We transcend our egos when we lose ourselves in the service of someone other than ourselves or of something greater than ourselves. At such times that we operate from a higher, soul perspective. This act of service by which we transcend ego is called Avodah. People dedicated to Avodah are known as talmidei chachamim and their work multiplies peace in the world:

 Talmidei Chachamim (bonaich) marbim shalom ba’olam… (Rabbi Elazar said in the name of Rabbi Channina: scholars of Torah, also known as ‘Your builders,’ multiply peace in the world). – Avot 1.

There are three pillars of Avodah (Avot 1) that also formed the cornerstone of the first modern yeshiva established in Volozhin, Belarus in 1806 (described by Reb Chaim Volozhiner in his introduction to Neffesh Hachaim):

  • Torah – immersion in Torah study
  • Avoda – the practice of prayer; and
  • Gemilut Hassadim – kindness to others.

By immersion in Torah we transcend our egos as we merge with something greater than ourselves. In the same way when we submerge our self-interest in prayer for the community we also lose ego in the service of something greater than ourselves. When we act in kindness, by putting the needs of others before our own needs, we lose ego in the service of people other than ourselves. This ego-transcendence is the power from which peace and wholeness is generated and transmitted into the world.

Although the work of talmidei chachamim is at a deep intra-personal and inter-personal level, its impact is global. When engaged in ego-transcending Avodah  we radiate our energy far beyond our own environments. We can be marbeh shalom ba’olam – multiply peace and wholeness throughout the world.

Every individual can add to peace in the world by generating their own energy of wholeness and shalom and radiating it outwards. Each of us can choose a time of day, every day, no matter how short if need be, that we totally immerse ourselves in the study of a passage of Torah. We could use a passage of Chumash, Mishna or Gemarra. We can do it in a shiur, a chavrutta or alone. Each of us can be more immersive in the way we daven (pray), in our mindfulness, attention and focus – our Kavannah. Each of us can deepen our interpersonal empathy as we connect with people and show them a loving kindness that springs from deep within our hearts.

Grand organizations like the United Nations or the League of Nations before it, failed to bring or maintain peace. Governments, driven by national pride and expedience have failed in peace initiative after peace initiative. Neither liberalism nor nationalism will bring about global peace. It is individuals like you and me who can bring peace to the world by the ways we live our lives. Peace is an energy of wholeness that individuals generate. Peace is the outcome of Am Yisrael’s dedication to its Avodah, to our service of that which is bigger than us and those who are other than us . Our efforts are inward, but their results are outward. We are an inside-out nation.