Hanukka: Time to ‘speak peaceably’ and ‘see the light’

To “speak peaceably” means to incorporate patience, understanding and consideration. Most important, to “speak peaceably” means to listen attentively.

December 14, 2017 20:44
Hanukka: Time to ‘speak peaceably’ and ‘see the light’

‘PERHAPS IT is not too late for us. Perhaps this Hanukka we can put aside our differences and learn to ‘speak peaceably’ to one another.’. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Hanukka is family time, when most people in Israel enjoy a vacation, kids are off from school, and the air is filled with the waft of jelly doughnuts and festivity. There is also a sense of national pride as everyone – regardless of observance, affiliation or lack of it thereof – recounts the story of the Maccabees’ victory over the Seleucid Greeks.

Fittingly, there are two vital statements which appear in this past week’s Torah portion which I believe are most significant both regarding our own families and on a grander scale regarding our nation.

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Many of us are familiar with the story of Joseph and his brothers; the jealousy and even hatred that existed between them and the catastrophic consequences that ensued as a result of that hatred. The Torah describes the brother’s hatred toward Yosef as, “They hated him; and they could not speak to him peaceably.”

Obviously, if someone “hates” someone else they will not be able to speak to them “peaceably”; in fact they would not speak to them at all. However, the Torah reveals to us the formula for success regarding any relationship: communication.

There was a breakdown in communication within the family of Jacob; Jacob did not converse with his 10 sons as much as he communicated with and favored Joseph. The brothers in turn did not speak much with their father and certainly not with Joseph, and the outcome was Joseph being sold to slavery in Egypt, which marked the beginning of the Jewish people’s enslavement in Egypt as well.

This entire episode not only conveys the importance of communication, but it teaches that communicating is not only about talking, but about knowing how to “speak peaceably.” As an Orthodox rabbi who tries to remain current, I very often address why so many Orthodox youth in Israel leave the fold and opt for nonobservance. While I do not think there is one answer, there is one constant which should never be compromised between parents and their children regardless of their differences as stark as they might be: the ability to “speak peaceably.”

To “speak peaceably” means to conduct a tranquil tone and intonation. To “speak peaceably” means to incorporate patience, understanding and consideration. Most important, to “speak peaceably” means to listen attentively.

Perhaps Jacob did speak with his sons, but he probably did not have heart-to-heart conversations with them to appreciate each one of their personalities and accentuate their strengths. In fact it appears he only does this when he is on his death bed and he offers each son a blessing in accordance with their unique personalities.

What Jacob did immediately prior to his death does not appear to be something he did while he was living. Perhaps the brothers and Joseph did speak to one another but they did not “speak peaceably.” They did not enjoy a camaraderie as many brothers do, they did not attempt to understand each other’s feelings, and they were uninterested in preserving a familial relationship.

Unfortunately our history has a nasty habit of repeating itself. Approximately four years ago I started Makom Meshutaf, an organization that promotes Jewish programming without a religious agenda to secular kibbutzim and moshavim throughout the country. Makom Meshutaf creates initiatives for the Jewish people in Israel to “speak peaceably.”

A week ago we ran a panel in Kibbutz Tzora which consisted of a secular Israeli, religious Zionist and a Haredi woman. It was a fascinating program and something we are promoting in kibbutzim throughout the country to demonstrate that there are differences between all of us and we need to engage in dialogue (we hope to create the same structure panel with representatives from the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform communities as well).

A few weeks ago I wrote about our daughter Nechama, who is a soldier in the IDF and the only observant girl in her unit. She called me this past week and told me that, as part of her course, they have an exam every week and there is always a random bonus question on the exam.

That week the bonus question was to write the words to the song “Echad Mi Yodea” (Who Knows One?) from the Passover Seder. Though Nechama was the only one who got the bonus question correct, following the exam she ended up teaching them the entire song, which became the “theme song” of their unit.

This week Nechama’s sergeant, who is nonobservant, had a heart-to-heart with each soldier privately. Nechama expressed her disappointment in the lack of motivation at times by some of the girls, to which her sergeant responded.

“Remember, Nechama, all the girls who are here are secular, which means that they have to serve in the army but they don’t necessarily want to be here. You, on the other hand, are observant; you had other options to choose from other than the army, but you chose to serve.

“Between you and me, as an observant girl you are motivated because you believe in something. It is this belief which provides you with resilience and a strength that other people don’t have.”

Later in the same biblical story Jacob sends Joseph to see his brothers by saying, “Go now, look into the welfare of your brothers.” Jacob is not sending Joseph merely as a messenger; he is sending him as an ambassador of peace.

He wants him to ‘speak peaceably’ to his brothers after all of the ill will that has festered between them. He asks Joseph to “look into the welfare” of his brothers by seeing them in a more positive light; but by then it was too late hence the unfortunate outcomes that ensued.

Perhaps it is not too late for us. Perhaps this Hanukka we can put aside our differences and learn to “speak peaceably” to one another. Perhaps it is time for us to recognize that our resilience and strength stems from our ability to “look into the welfare of our brothers” and perhaps this Hanukka will mark the first time in history that we all begin to see the light.

The author serves as a lecturer on Judaism for the IDF, secular kibbutzim, and the Diaspora. www.makommeshutaf.com and www.rabbihammer.com

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