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Behar-Bechukotai: Three Circles of Peace

Life is Worthless without Peace

In the Torah portion of Behar, we read that as a result of observing the Sabbatical and Jubilee years, God promises us, “…You shall settle the Land securely… and you shall settle securely upon it”[1] (וִישַׁבְתֶּם עַל־הָאָרֶץ לָבֶטַח…. וִישַׁבְתֶּם לָבֶטַח עָלֶיהָ). This twice repeated promise recurs a third time at the beginning of the next Torah portion, Bechukotai, which is often read in conjunction with the portion of Behar: “And you shall settle securely in your land”[2] (וִישַׁבְתֶּם לָבֶטַח בְּאַרְצְכֶם), and is immediately followed by the blessing of peace, “And I will grant peace in the Land”[3] (וְנָתַתִּי שָׁלוֹם בָּאָרֶץ).

Rashi asks, “If you were to say, ‘We have food and we have drink, but if there is no peace then they are worthless!’ for this reason the Torah continues, ‘I will grant peace in the land.’” From here we learn that peace is as important as the sum of all other blessings.” Another blessing that concludes with “peace” is the Priestly Blessing. The Amidah, the main prayer repeated three times a day, also concludes with a blessing for peace. Peace is the link that connects all the prophetic visions of the ultimate redemption, and it is the universal catchword. Today, everyone wants peace…

Let us look at the concept of peace as it appears in the Hebrew text of the Bible. The Hebrew word for “peace” is shalom (שָׁלוֹם). Its shoresh (three-letter root) is shin-lamed-mem (ש-ל-ם), which is also the shoresh of the word shelemut (שְׁלֵמוּת), which means “wholeness.” The initial idea that we glean from this is that true peace is an expression of wholeness and is dependent upon it, a fact that starkly contradicts the phonetic similarity between “peace” and “piece” in English. In addition, there is another word, shalvah (שַׁלְוָה), meaning “contentment” whose sha'ar (two-letter root), shin-lamed, is the same as that of “peace.” The two words, “contentment” and “peace” often appear together.[4]

Illusions of peace

The shoresh of shalvah is shin-lamed-hei, which also has another, different connotation, as in the word, “illusion” (אֲשְׁלָיָה). There is true peace and contentment and there is contentment that is no more than a tempting, but dangerous, illusion. The peace treaties that we are so familiar with today are not only far from expressing wholeness (somehow they always come at our expense), but they also do not accommodate contentment because they scatter naive illusions in the public mind, which eventually explode in our faces, as the prophet said, “They healed My people’s wounds offhandedly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ but there is no peace.”[5]

Peace and Pleasure

Peace is also related to spiritual pleasure, which is why, on Shabbat, which is intrinsically a day of pleasure, we wish one another “Shabbat shalom.” To illustrate the pleasure that is inherent in peace, let us begin by considering the peace that is attainable by every individual within himself. King David says, “There is no peace in my bones because of my sin.”[6] According to the literal explanation, this refers to physical wholeness and good health, but, in addition, the very presence of sin contradicts peace. There must be peace between the soul and the body, and sin violates that connection.

In contrast, a proper connection between soul and body is described as, “peace in my bones [essence].” Clearly, this type of peace cannot merely be “a ceasefire;” rather it is a sense of contentment and pleasure that results from inner harmony.

Now, having seen what peace means for us, as individuals, let’s look at peace in the family. True family harmony is more than family members not yelling at one another, or knowing how to maneuver around one another, or even having respect for one another. Rather, family peace is a pleasant feeling and sense of how good it is to simply live and be together. In particular, this pleasant appeal manifests in the commandment to light Shabbat candles on Friday evening, which is intended to induce a sense of family harmony and pleasure on Shabbat. The light of the candles reflects the beauty and joy of family harmony, as family members look at one another with glowing faces, enveloped in a canopy of light.

Three Circles of Peace

Family harmony and peace extend beyond the close core of immediate family members. The entire Jewish people, “the house of Israel,” are one big happy family and we expect that all Jews, wherever they live, should all live together in peace. This type of peace is indeed a messianic goal (because, unfortunately, we are still far from achieving it). Still, if we, for a moment, imagine peace and unity between all Jews—Jews and more Jews, from all tribes, factions, and opinions, living in peace, “All of us, as one in the light of Your countenance”[7]—we certainly feel that this connection between all Jewish souls is steeped in a wonderful sense of pleasure.

Obviously, the messianic goal doesn’t end with peace amongst Jews alone, but aims even higher, to achieve universal peace. The Mashiach will teach the entire world how to make true peace: peace between the soul and the body, family harmony, fraternal peace, peace between Jews and the nations, and peace between all of humanity. As the prophet Zechariah said of the Mashiach, “And he shall speak peace to the nations, and his rule shall be from the sea to the west and from the river to the ends of the earth”[8] (וְדִבֶּר שָׁלוֹם לַגּוֹיִם וּמָשְׁלוֹ מִיָּם עַד יָם וּמִנָּהָר עַד אַפְסֵי אָרֶץ).

World peace does not marginalize the unique light of the Jewish people. On the contrary, the peace that spreads out so far, “to the ends of the earth,” is the perfect setting for revealing the special qualities of the Jewish people, for in the end, peace between Jewish souls comes from the most exalted source of all.

Non-Locality and Locality

Peace between Jewish souls is a non-local phenomenon that does not depend upon us being together in one place. Nonetheless, in the Torah portion of Bechukotai the Torah emphasizes  “I will grant peace in the Land,” referring of course to the Land of Israel. The peace that will be achieved when the Land of Israel is whole and the Jewish people are whole will reveal an even greater level of light and pleasure, because the Land of Israel is where the Shechinah (the Divine Presence) resides (the Land of Israel itself is considered a reflection of the Shechinah). Indeed, this is the culmination of the blessings in Bechukotai, “I will place My dwelling place amongst you… and I will walk amongst you, and I will be a God to you, and you will be My people.”[9]

These three circles of peace can help us understand Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s words in the Zohar regarding the Mashiach, who is called, “the minister of peace.”[10]

The minister of peace is a righteous person who is at peace with the world, at peace in the home [peace among Jews] and at peace with the Divine Presence.[11]

These three circles of peace form a progression, with each higher than the previous one. We hope to see all three revealed speedily in our days by the minister of peace, the Mashiach.

Excerpted from HaRav Ginsburgh’s class of Iyar 15, 5772

[1]. Leviticus 25:18-19.

[2]. Ibid. 26:5.

[3]. Ibid. v. 6.

[4]. For example Psalms 122:7, the chapter connected with the Lubavitcher Rebbe this year.

[5]. Jeremiah 6:14.

[6]. Psalms 38:4.

[7]. Final benediction of the Amidah.

[8]. Zachariah 9:10. The word “peace” (שָׁלוֹם) appears explicitly in this verse, and in the initial letters of the words, “peace to the nations, and his rule shall be from the sea” (שָׁלוֹם לַגּוֹיִם וּמָשְׁלוֹ מִיָּם).

[9]. Leviticus 26:11-12.

[10]. Isaiah 9:5.

[11]. Zohar 3:31a.

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