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The Ultimate Blessing

Is peace attainable in our time?
Why is peace so elusive, and what can we do about it?

Table for Five: Bechukotai

In partnership with the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles

 Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist

I will grant peace in the land, and you shall lie down untroubled by anyone; I will give the land respite from vicious beasts, and no sword shall cross your land.

-Lev. 26:6

 

Rabbi Abraham Lieberman, Judaic Studies, Shalhevet H.S.

While most commentators look at the verse as referring to some kind of universal peace, the Sifra (quoted by Rashi) derives from this verse the well known point, that peace is the ultimate blessing Ramban (1194-1270) indicates that the verse is to be understood as the peace between us, each other, learning not to fight and argue, one against the other.

The deeper lesson would be the ultimate dream of real Achdot, unity amongst brothers. As we study our Tanach, we constantly find brothers fighting with each other, always with sad results (Kain-Abel, Isaac-Yishmael, Jacob-Esau, Joseph and the brothers). Only two brothers in Torah don’t fight and get along with each other, Ephrayim and Menashe, and that is the reason why Friday night as we bless our children, we invoke their names as models to our children. As the verse states: “ By you, shall Israel invoke blessings, saying: G-d make you like Ephrayim and Menashe” (Breishit 48:20).

Rabbi S.R. Hirsch (1808-1888) develops Ramban’s point even further. In his commentary he writes: “ As a result of the spirit of contentment and harmony among the people, and their mutual joy in each other, the nation’s communal life will be blessed with tranquility”. Contentment comes about with an ”inner peace” when we have reached a point of selflessness and realize our responsibility towards the greater whole that we are only a part of. The utopian peace we all desire and pray for, should be reachable goal.

 

Rabbi Chaim Singer-Frankes, Chaplain, Kaiser Permamente, Panorama City

God vows that a magnificent “peace” will be ours. Textually it forms the apex of superb things vouchsafed for being in league with God. Reading it so frequently (in the prayer for peace before Mussaf), I am comforted; it sounds like Nirvana. I chant fervently, with inspired and rousing tunes, that these things be manifest in our time. Regarding “neither shall the sword pass through your land,” Rashi (11th – 12th century France) teaches ‘not even armies pursuing war in other lands will pass through your land.’ To me, this version of “peace” sounds like some sort of Starship Enterprise; both the people and the land Yisrael will enjoy God’s exclusive forcefield of protection. But Torah is not a fantasy show. Were this passage the only one, it truly would be a different world. However, our relationship with God is a marriage, a covenant. Covenants are conditional pacts.

Coming from God, I have no doubt that the vow can be manifest, true, and completely possible. Just as this passage is the zenith of terrific things which we will enjoy in a heaven-on-earth scenario, so too it is followed by a series of warnings; the quintessential “if.” If we do not adhere to our end of the covenant, then God is free to take vengeance as is fit, and God decides what is fit. Therefore, by mandating a just and holy society—fulfilling promises in partnership with God—we can dispel any darkness threatening the world, a task we can achieve.

 

Kylie Ora Lobell, Community and Arts Editor, Jewish Journal

This parsha is pretty clear: If the Jewish people follow the commandments, then they will experience peace in the land of Israel. If they do not, they will be cursed. But unlike the Jews in the Torah, we do not have a crystal-clear view these days of which of our actions lead to blessings and which to curses. A bad thing that happens to us could actually be a good thing, and vice versa.

We are also taught that everything Hashem does is for the good. This is an extremely difficult concept to grasp, especially when attacks are happening every day in Israel. The conclusion I’ve reached over the years is that while we think we may have clarity, we don’t.

We don’t see the bigger picture. We don’t know how everything ties together. When our redemption comes, we will gain a better understanding of why things happen. Why things are the way they are. For now, we must do our best to follow the commandments. We must do the right thing, even when it’s the harder thing. And above all else, we must trust in Hashem, even when it feels like we’re experiencing curses. It’s the only way that we will truly be able to experience peace.

 

Denise Berger, Freelance Writer

These blessings are among a series promised in reward for following the mitzvot. Apart from brief periods of peace, this particular grouping has never actually come about.

The conventional explanation would be that the Jewish people have not yet fulfilled the mission. And while this interpretation is technically true, it also doesn’t match our experience of G-d. Just a few weeks ago, the parsha admonished us not to put a stumbling block before the blind. Surely, if G-d doesn’t want us setting people up to fail, He wouldn’t do that to us. He wouldn’t purposely dangle a blessing that He knows will elude us for thousands of years, just to get us to “try harder.” Hashem is not mean.

So often in life, when we encounter something that feels inconsistent, we derive the most cynical conclusions. There can be such a strong tendency to believe the worst —- about others’ intentions, about the meaning of events, about the world in general, and G-d. Maybe when there is a part of the Torah that feels “off” in some way, it’s preparing us for just those situations. When faced with something that goes against all the good we know about a person, (or about Hashem), maybe step back, and reflect on the relationship and the bigger picture. Believe the goodness and the love which we know unequivocally to be true, and set the rest aside. The goodness and the love can assure us that in time, the confusion will make sense.

 

Nina Litvak, Accidental Talmudist Org

In this week’s Torah portion, God describes the good that will happen to us if we follow His laws and commandments. He promises that we will be blessed with rain, produce, and bread – things necessary to sustain life. But God wants us to do more than just survive. He wants to give us the ultimate blessing: peace (shalom.) Rashi says that peace is equivalent to everything else. As it says in our morning prayers, “Blessed are you… who makes peace and creates everything.”

Shalom is a word with multiple definitions. In this verse, it seems to mean going to bed without worrying about being killed by a vicious beast or sword. We live in a society that is filled with strife, and crime is at record highs. Yet for most of us in America, we can sleep without fear of imminent attack. It’s a luxury we take for granted, but for many people throughout human history, and tragically in some countries today, people go to bed in fear.

It’s ironic and sad that while people in Ukraine – and Israel – need bomb shelters, here in America, we actually keep ourselves awake at night. Insomnia and sleep aids are at an all-time high. I often struggle to fall asleep as my mind races through things to be anxious about. This verse teaches me that going to bed without fear of being killed is a gift from God. Instead of worrying about my problems, I should lie in bed and be thankful.

 

With thanks to Rabbi Abraham Lieberman, Rabbi Chaim Singer-Frankes, Kylie Ora Lobell, Denise Berger, and Nina Litvak

Image by Anastasiya Lobanovskaya via Pexels

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