(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Parshat Bechukotai opens with a detailed list of promises slated to be fulfilled when Am Yisrael goes in the path of Torah and keeps the commandments.
Most of the promises appearing in this list deal with economic welfare, the quiet and serene life of a nation living in its land, safe from its various enemies. But among the promises is a short one that is of deep significance: “And I will grant peace in the Land.” (Leviticus 26:6) The Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, one of the greatest sages in Spain in the 13th century), claimed that these words do not refer to peace between a nation and its enemies, but rather to an inner peace among the various segments of the nation. This is what he wrote: “There will be peace among you, and you will not fight one man with his brother.”
This promise differs from the others in the list in which it appears since it deals with a societal situation that is not dependent on a flourishing economy or national-military security. On the other hand, it is the pinnacle of all the promises, since what value would financial prosperity have in a “dog eat dog” world? When we examine this, we see that this promise incorporates another one, which is no less significant.
WHEN IS peace necessary? When people agree on the goals they wish to achieve, the need for peace is less obvious. But when people disagree, when different people work toward different objectives, that is when the need for peace is manifest and valued.
When the Torah promises us peace, it does not mean that we will live in a situation in which peace is a given. It is referring to a reality in which peace is not a given, but despite our differences, we will all be able to live in peace.
How is this possible? Can true peace exist between people who have different opinions and actions? There is a saying attributed to Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (one of the greatest hassidic leaders, from Ukraine, at the beginning of the 19th century): “The greater the open-mindedness – the greater the peace.”
Why is peace dependent on open-mindedness? Because this is the secret that enables peace among different people. When we understand that despite the differences in opinion, we must open our minds and make space also for opinions opposed to our own, that is true peace. If our minds are open enough to appreciate the other who disagrees with us, then we have reached a state when peace is indeed in our midst.
Therefore, the Torah’s promise “And I will grant peace in the land” conceals within it another promise, that we will be worthy of peace, that we will have minds that are open and deep enough to live peacefully with those of different opinions and attitudes.
Our sources say the following about peace: “The Blessed be He did not find a vessel to hold blessings for Israel other than peace, as it says, ‘May G-d give strength to His people; May G-d bless His nation with peace.’” (Mishna, Masechet Oktzin, 3rd chapter) The definition of peace as a “vessel for blessing” expresses the special attitude that the Jewish nation, throughout the generations, has had regarding peace.
Peace that exists between contrasts, between those of different opinions, is the yearned-for peace, the peace that is a “vessel for blessing.”The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and holy sites.