Saturday, 21 May 2011

Do you believe in peace?

This is a précis of the sermon I delivered this past Shabbat.


This morning at the outset of the Sedra we read about the rewards we get for keeping Torah and Mitzvot.

Some of the rewards are as follows:

The rains will come at the proper times. The produce will appear in abundance. Everybody will have plenty. The trees of the field will yield its fruit and you will eat your bread to satisfaction and you will dwell in your land with security.

Now listen to the next words because they are very familiar:

Venatati shalom ba-aretz ushechavtem ve-ein macharid-

G-d says: “I will provide peace in the land – and you will lie down with none to make you afraid".

These words are familiar because we recite them as part of the bakasha – the request in the Tefillah leshalom medinat yisrael-The prayer for Israel

We ask Hashem to give us peace.

Rashi – quoting from the Sifra asks the simple question… why bring peace in at the end of all the set of requests in the Sedra- and his answer is as follows- peace comes at the end to teach us that you might have everything else- all the blessings from Hashem- you might have all the abundance of produce and wonderful weather conditions- the rain that we need so desperately in Eretz Yisrael- but if Shalom is not there – then something really elemental is lacking.

Shalom- peace in the land outweighs everything else.

My friends- do not be deceived- Jews want peace. It’s part of the Torah- and its part of our Tefillot everyday. The last blessing of the Amidah is Sim Shalom Tovah uveracha- Provide peace goodness and blessing on your people Israel.

The end of the Birchat Hamazon , the end of Kaddish, the end of Amidah we say Oseh Shalom Bimromav hu yaaseh shalom aleinu veal kol yisrael… We just recited the words when we put the Torah back- Derachecha darchei noam vechol netivotecha shalom- The Torahs ways are ways of pleasantness and its paths are Shalom.

To be an Orthodox Jew- a Jew full stop- peace has to be the paradigm.

The only thing is that you cannot have peace without ensuring the security in the land.

Vishavtem lavetach beartzechem- you dwell securely in the land- precedes peace.

The media for example gets it wrong when they have a go at Israel for building an “apartheid” wall. The truth is that since that wall has been up the number of terrorist attacks in Israel has decreased dramatically.

People’s lives have been saved.

People get it wrong as well if they think that Israel can return to the pre 1967 borders. It couldn’t work then- so how could it work now?

People get it wrong as well when they suggest that we can sit down and negotiate with Fatah and Hamas jointly-who do not recognise Israel’s right to exist and indeed want to destroy us.

And we judge Israel by a double standard. Israel has to defend its borders and the security of its people, especially when they are attacked by missiles from without-but what about Turkey have they got a justification to oppress the Kurds who live in their borders?

Does anybody do anything about that?

Consider the people of Darfur. A crisis nobody in the west seems to know anything about. But if you look into the history of the conflict-look it up on Wikipedia, it’s about Arab Muslims against black Muslims- it’s simply a race issue yet the world is quiet. Yet when Israel needs to do things for its own security the whole world is in uproar.

Read on in the verse – after telling us about the importance of peace, the Torah then goes on to say.. vecherev lo taavor beartzechem… the sword will not cross your land.

So the question is… Peace- true shalom is more than the mere absence of war. Peace means that people will come to respect one another despite the fact that they might have their differences- It’s not just the fact that you don’t lift up a sword against your enemy – that might be just a matter of convenience- you don’t want to endanger yourself – but that doesn’t mean peace. So the order of the verse should have been that there will be no sword in the land, talking about the absence of violence and then, that will ultimately lead to venatati shalom ba-aretz- I will provide peace in the land.

You understand the question?

One interpretation is that the verse is referring to two different types of shalom. When it says Venatati shalom ba-aretz- I will provide peace in the land-it doesn’t mean just peace with our neighbours but it means providing an inner peace amongst us, the Jewish people. Because if there is no peace at home, amongst ourselves how can we expect that there will be peace with our neighbours?

We need to kindle the respect for one another as Jews-

Whether it is between the richer or the poorer elements of society, Ashkenazi or Sefardi- Chiloni or Chareidi, North African Jews or North European Jews- there has to be respect.

The Sefirat HaOmer are days of mourning because 24000 students of Rabbi Akiva died. Why- asks the Gemara in Yevamot did they die?

Shelo nahagu kavod zeh lezeh- they had no respect for one another.

And what a paradox, that it was their teacher Rabbi Akiva who quoted the verse in the Torah-Veahavta lereacho kamocha- You shall love your neighbour as yourself and he said: Zeh klal gadol baTorah- this is an important principle of the Torah.

His very same students could not live up to that principle.

Before we think about peace in the land we need peace amongst ourselves first.

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