Shalom Rav- Great is Peace
According to an ancient tradition, it is on this day, Rosh Hashanah, that God created mankind, and in so doing, completed the action of Creation.
Do you imagine that it was an easy thing to create the first Adam? For everything else, God could easily say, “Let there be", but when it came to the first man and woman, he had to begin major pronouncements--Let us make. It is, as Rashi explains, the Royal We. But it’s not enough just to say “take”. He needed dirt and clay, shaped and formed; he had to breathe life into him,no easy job.
Not only that, but our Rabbis note that by saying the Royal We, it is understand that there are bystanders listening to this. They go further, to explain that this is now taken up by a committee! Everything else is done by God as a loner. Not so when it comes to creating Adam!
Not only that, but do not imagine that heaven itself was satisfied with the whole process. Thus, it is said, when God was about to create the first man, the angels in heaven immediately began to argue. All is in harmony, and all are in accord with God up until he says, "Let's make Adam,humanity."
Now, they are split. One party demands,"Don't do it!" and the other demands,
"Do it! " Psalms said " Lovingkindness and Truth came together, Justice and Peace kissed."(85:11). The Hebrew words used might mean kissed, but it also means
" collide"! These values all collided!
Lovingkindness said" Create him, for he will be a kind and loving being!"
Truth said," Don't create him, for he will be all lies."
Justice said, "Create him, for he shall do justice."
Peace said," Don't create him, for he is only strife and contention."
What did God do? He threw truth to the ground.
But the angels continued their quarrel and debate until God turned to them and said," Stop your arguing! Na-asah Adam." Adam has already been created."Not “ We will make man” Na-aseh: , but “ Ne’esah”, It has already been done. ( Ber. Rabbah 8:5)
What a controversial creature we are, that the angels in heaven themselves must disagree and that truth, God’s crown, is thrown to the ground.
This tonight is Rosh Hashanah, some 5777 years later, give or take a few billion. On this season of Rosh Hashanah, we hope to put aside that ancient celestial quarrel, and we hope to find some peace, Shalom, we seek just that trait which was so opposed to mankind, because mankind would be a creature of strife and contention.
I want, at this season in which we renew ourselves, to look at the word" Shalom", peace, to examine it from every angle.
Perhaps, as we proceed through this season, in our thoughts and in our actions, we shall succeed in convincing the angels that we, human beings, man and woman, are not all contention and strife, and that God did not struggle in vein, that we truly are worthy of this great and magnificent earth on which we live.
What is this word" Shalom"?
You may be familiar with the title song of a musical about Israel, "Land of Milk & Honey", with its explanation: Shalom, shalom, you'll find shalom, the nicest greeting you know." But Shalom is much more than a "nicest greeting".
As with every Hebrew word, it has a three letter root,shin-lamed-mem- wholeness or completeness-. It indicates shlemut- perfection.
In its Biblical setting, it was a a state of affairs, a state of well-being, tranquility, prosperity, and security. It's opposite, milchamah, war, occurs when there is no prosperity, no tranquility, when things are incomplete. The word "milchamah"
war, has its root, lacham, -- related to lechem-- to bread. When we miss our daily bread, for survival, we go to war.
Both Hebrew and Yiddish are filled with words of Shalom- Shalom uvracha, Shalom aleichem, shalom bayit; has veshalim, mah shlomcha, shabbat shalom, shalom al yisrael. There is no shortage of applications for Shalom. -health, prosperity, absolute good, physical security; legal equity, submission, heavenly grace; kindness and mercy, friendship.
Shalom reigns as the paramount value in Judaism.
The Rabbis declared that " The world stands on three principals- truth, judgement, and peace-(Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel), and the Talmud adds--where there is justice, then truth has been vindicated, and peace prevails.
The making of Peace is different from all other commands, for of peace it is said, “Seek Peace and pursue it." With other mitzvoth, one can wait for the right occasion, but not so for peace; peace requires that we get up from our seats and go pursue it, seek it actively. ( Lev R 9.9)
For our sages, Shalom is a meta-value, it is the summit of all values .It is the name of God, the name of Israel, and the name of the Messiah( Derekh Ertez Zuta Perek Hashalom).
It is the ultimate purpose of the Torah, as they taught us,"All that is written in the Torah was written for the sake of Peace."( Tanhuma Shoftim)
When Jacob fled for his life he had only on prayer:--Ve shavti beshalom el bet avi: I shall return unto my father's house in peace.
Jacob, who would become Israel, sought only to return to his home in peace. What peace was he seeking? Peace with his brother, who was out to kill him and peace with his uncle who would cheat him, peace with his wives whom he would marry, peace among his children to come, and finally, perhaps most important, peace with God and with himself. During these High Holy Days, we shall seek peace and examine it in all its perspectives.
At the end of the Amidah, and also at the end of the Kaddish Shalem, there is a sentence from Psalms, which has become popular in recent years with a lively Israeli melody. It is "Oseh Shalom"—“May he who makes peace in the Heavens above”, where, the Rabbis explained, beings of fire and ice exist side by side in harmony, “also make peace upon us and all Israel.”
But, we know that we can't wait for miracles. Jewish law forbids waiting for miracles. Therefore, our law codes direct us, as Jews, to work for peaceful relations among all nations, whether on the large scale, globally, or on the small scale, in the neighborhood, between Jew and gentile, between nation and nation, on the principal of " mipnei darkei shalom" ,for the sake of the paths of peace. We are taught that even when war is inevitable, we must first attempt the path of peace.
Yet it proves a difficult road to travel. There are foes that truly are sworn to destruction and to domination. There are foes that refuse any reasonable argument but who glory in self-destruction while seeking to destroy everyone else. There are real dictators who gas their own people. There are world powers that trod over others without a thought. We need to make that difficult balance, of fighting evil with one hand, while opening the hand of peace on the other, a difficult balancing act. God help us! We need the help.
We are also taught, " Seek the peace of the City, for in its peace, you will find your peace."
The peace of Los Angeles is our peace, in her tranquility, we will find our tranquility.
We must pray for this city, and for this nation, for it is here, alone, among the nations of world, that so many different peoples, of so many divergent origins , have been capable of living together in mutual tolerance and acceptance of their differences. This nation still is, in Lincoln's words, "the last great hope of mankind".
We as Jews need our peace. We always joke about the one lone Martian with a Yarmulka who builds two synagogues. " Mine, and the one I'll never set foot in." The joke sadly hides our deepest troubles. I mentioned Jacob whose twelve sons couldn't get along; we ended up with four hundred years of Egyptian slavery. Because the Jews of the land of Israel were split by hatred, we paid with two thousand years of exile.
We need our peace among ourselves. "Great is peace, that even if all Israel worship idols, yet when peace reigns among them, God says: I cannot wield power over them because peace prevails there.”( Gen R. 38). We must put aside our quarrels, and work hand in hand to survive.
What is the path to take, to get to world peace, to peace with our neighbors, to peace among Jews, to peace in the family?
We will find peace among peoples when each of us recognizes the truth, that we are all created to attain knowledge of God and knowledge of his ways, and apply them in our daily life. Thus Maimonides promised." In that era there will be neither famine nor war, neither jealousy nor strife.The one preoccupation of the world will be to know the Lord ( Hilkhot Melakhim 12.5).
A contemporary of his Abraham bar Hiyya, taught that,
"If each and every one shall love his fellow as he loves himself, then zealotry, hatred, and covetousness must vanish from the world, and it is these that are the cause of war and slaughter in this world."
It is echoed in a Chinese proverb which suggests the path we must take," If there is righteousness in the heart, there is beauty in the character. If there is beauty in the character, there will be harmony in the home. If there is harmony in the home, there will be order in the nation. When there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world."
It is inside ourselves that we shall find the root cause of peace. As Jews, we believe that we will find peace in ourselves when we recognize that we , ourselves, are God's creation, that each of us is a reflection, no matter how small, a reflection of God.
I must add to my thoughts an event from this week.
The past President, and one time Prime Minister, of Israel, the last of the founding generations, Shimon Peres, passed away this week. His funeral was held Friday morning, Israel time, and we watched it live feed on the internet till almost 2 at night, when we couldn’t hold ourselves any longer. Peres accomplished in his death, in a way, what he had worked for all his life. Under one tent there were gathered the leaders and high ranking dignitaries of the United States, Britain, France, and many other major powers. Moslem and Arab countries sent representatives as well.
The one scene that moved me the most was to see Mohamed Abbas, or Abu Mazen, head of the Palestinian Authority, attend, and chat with Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, despite the nasty speech Abu Mazen had delivered at the UN General Assembly just a week earlier.
Ofra commented to me, “ Who knows if Abu Mazen isn’t thinking to himself,” What legacy will I leave.” He has only a few years, maybe a decade, to go. Will there be such a gathering to eulogize him for his efforts to conclude a deal with Israel. Maybe, just maybe, God willing, he will want to make that his great legacy, to finally bring peace to his people together with the people of Israel.(note- He had better hurry, as he just went through heart surgery ! ) As they say in Arabic, Inshallah, God willing.
The oldest words of the Torah to have survived the ravages of time are words found by archaeologists recently, words written nearly three thousand years ago, inscribed on a leaf of gold.
Only one thought could survive the ravages of time: It was the blessing of the priests the " Yevarechecha." We use it as personal blessings, on many occasions, at weddings or when we bless our children, and we use it to end the Amidah prayer every morning.
It is a pyramid of blessings, a pyramid of three, then five, then seven words.
Yevarchecha H' Veyishmerecha
May the Lord Bless you and keep you
Ya-eyr H' panav elecha vichunecha
May the lord make countenance shine upon you and be gracious unto you
Yisa H' panav elecha veyasem lecha shalom
May the Lord make his turn his countenance upon you and give you peace.
May indeed, each and everyone of us be blessed with peace from God, peace within ourselves, peace within our families, peace in our synagogue, our community, our world. Amen. Amen.