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Seeking peace

This week I want to share an essay I wrote on seeking peace,  Our world is a very dangerous place, and all need to pray and work for the restoration of peace.

Lo Yisa goy el goy che-rev, lo yil-ma-du odmilchama – Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, and they shall no longer study war. Despite the importance of the “Big Kahuna,” as far as I know there is only one true linguistic “connection” between Hebrew and Hawaiian. The real meaning of shalom and aloha, though used for hello and goodbye, is peace (with connections to compassion and love). Like the old hippy greeting “peace,” shalom and aloha convey profound messages about the underlying teachings of their traditions/ worldviews. Shalom/Aloha as greetings expresses a wish that all whom we meet can live in a world guided by peace.

The Talmud teaches that shalom (peace) is the underlying principle of Torah, an idea also stressed by the Rambam. In the closing words of the Mishneh Torah (his succinct code of Jewish law) he states, “Great is peace, as the whole Torah was given in order to promote peace in the world, as it is stated, ‘Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace.’” Indeed, as noted in an earlier essay, peace is one of only two interconnected mitzvot for which every moment is the time for fulfilment. We are told that we need to “seek peace and pursue it.” The greatest hero, the Jewish tradition teaches, is the person who transforms an enemy into a friend.

Numerous prayers for peace recited throughout the day and week remind us of the importance of working for peace. It is taught that the Amidah always ends with a prayer for peace, as this is the most important blessing that we ask of God. This work is the ultimate example of tikkun olam and the establishment of the messianic fulfilment. The prophet Isaiah creates a vision where the lion and lamb will lie down together, and “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, and they shall no longer study war.” As with everything within the Jewish tradition, however, this transformation will not occur unless we as God’s partners work for real change in the world.

When I was growing up, Michael Robinson z”l, the rabbi of our synagogue, would always bless each bar and bat mitzvah student (in Hebrew and English) with the words of the three-fold priestly benediction, which ends with the blessing of peace. As he translated the final words, he would always say, “not just peace but also with a sense of wholeness with all the people of the world.” These words pick up on a central kabbalistic understanding of shalom. The Hebrew root Shin Lamed Mem (the three basic letters from which Shalom and other related words derive) has the sense of wholeness and completeness, which is the ultimate truth about both humanity and the essence of the Divine. Our rabbis ask, ‘why only one human was created by the Divine, instead of a multitude (similar to the other animals)?’ Kabbalah provides an answer, focusing on the creation of one initial human as also the engendering of a single soul. With each new human, however, a new soul is not created.

Instead, this single soul, a spark of the Divine, is divided and found in each new person. The spark is divided and yet still united. Though disparate people, all of us united together form one complete soul – a spark of the divine. Just as there is one soul which unites all humans, so too we are reminded that the ultimate truth is that all – humans, animals, plants and all parts of creation – contain and are subsumed in the essential ultimate unity which is the Divine. As we work for genuine peace, seeing our necessary connection and wholeness with all our brothers and sisters, and indeed the entirety of creation, we actualize tikkun through the restoration of real unity. “On that day God will be one, and God’s name one.”

About the Author
David serves as rabbi of Beth Sholom-Chevra Shas in DeWitt, NY. He was formerly the rabbi of the Jewish Community of Japan and a past chair of the Assembly of Rabbis and Cantors, Australia, New Zealand and Asia. He works closely with the emerging Jewish community in Indonesia. He has a strong commitment to interfaith relations, exemplified by, "Beyond the Golden Rule: A Jewish Approach to Dialogue and Discourse."
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