Human Rights

Teachings on Peace

Blade_interfaith_serviceTeachings on Peace, and Prayer for Peace
By Rabbi Dr. Barry Leff
Congregation B’nai Israel

(photo from Toledo Blade)

On August 7 there was an interfaith prayer service for peace held at Christ the King church in Toledo.  Bishop Blair of the Catholic Diocese of Toledo was the host of the event; various Toledo religious leaders participated, including myself and Imam Farooq Aboelzehab of the Islamic Center.  You can read the article about the event in the Toledo Blade.  It was wonderful to see so many people from so many faiths come together to pray for peace.  The gathering was not about "dialog."  This was not the time to discuss who was right and who was wrong.  It was just a time to come together and pray that whoever is right, whoever is wrong, the violence should come to an end soon and there should be peace.  My remarks–Jewish teachings on peace, and Rebbe Nachman’s prayer for peace — follow.

The world is in great need of healing – fighting and violence rages, not only in the Holy Land, but in Iraq, Sudan, and other places as well.  All over the world people are persecuted for their beliefs, their ethnicity, or their affiliations.

God does not want us fighting with one another.  The rabbi Arbarbanel explains the verse in Deuteronomy which tells us to "walk in God’s ways" (Deuteronomy 28:9), as meaning God does not desire death or the destruction of the world but repentance. God extends God’s right hand to welcome the penitent, and that includes mortal kings and other people.

God’s wish, God’s blessing, is peace.  The Talmud (Megilah 18a) says the blessing of the Holy One, blessed be He, is peace, as it says, The Lord shall bless his people with peace.

In Leviticus 26:6 God promises וְנָתַתִּי שָׁלוֹם בָּאָרֶץ וּשְׁכַבְתֶּם וְאֵין מַחֲרִיד
And I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid;

Too many people all over the world are afraid to lie down for fear bombs will fall on their heads.

Peace means not just peace within our own homes or within our own faith communities, but peace amongst ALL peoples.  In Deuteronomy God commands us “Love you therefore the stranger; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

We have all had the experience of being “strangers.”  Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, have all had times and places where they were persecuted for who they were.

This can only happen when we forget that we are all brothers.  The Talmud teaches that Man was created alone – from Adam – so that no one can say to his fellow “my father was greater than yours.”  We all share the same father.  Recent scientific studies have shown that you only have to go back a few thousand years to find a common ancestor for all mankind – we truly are all related to each other, we truly are all cousins.

Peace is more than something God wants – it is the essence of God Himself.  The Zohar, the central text of Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, teaches “God is also called “peace”; He is peace, His name is peace, and all is bound together in peace. “

Psalm 50:2 says “Out of Zion the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.”  The Zohar explains God’s shining forth as the light which, when once it shines, will shine for all the worlds. When that light will awaken, the whole will be one common fellowship, under the reign of universal love and universal peace. There will be peace in heaven and peace on earth. So Scripture says: “Peace be within your walls, and prosperity within your palaces (Psalm, 122:7).”

We cannot sit and passively wait for peace to happen; in Psalm 34 we are charged, “bikash shalom v’rodfahu,” Seek peace and pursue it.

Arbabanel tell us that it is preferable to seek peace diplomatically than militarily—he tells us “Have we not seen the many fall to the few or the strong to the weak?…Therefore it is appropriate to choose true peace rather than to trust in a doubtful victory.”

The Talmud tells us we should never give up on the search for peace.  There is a proverb which says “A man should pray for peace even to the last clod of earth [thrown upon his grave].”

Wars are generally started by people who are arrogant.  The Talmud warns “the sin of arrogance is equivalent to all [the others] whereas of the humble it is written, But the humble shall inherit the land, and delight themselves in the abundance of peace (Psalm 39:11)”

We can arrogantly insist that we are only seeking justice.  But the Talmud points to a tension between justice and peace.  The Talmud brings the verse “Execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates.”  The Talmud points out, surely where there is strict justice there is no peace, and where there is peace, there is no strict justice! But what is that kind of justice with which peace abides? The one which is arrived at through negotiation and compromise.

Psalm 122 tells us:
   שַׁאֲלוּ שְׁלוֹם יְרוּשָׁלָם
6. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; those who love you shall prosper.
7. Peace be within your walls, and prosperity within your palaces.
8. For my brothers and companions sakes, I will now say, Peace be within you.
9. Because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek your good.

Please join me in prayer, as I recite Rebbe Nachman’s Prayer for Peace
(Attributed to Rabbi Nachman ben Feiga of Breslov, 1773-1810)

Adon HaShalom, Lord of Peace, Divine Ruler, to whom peace belongs! Master of Peace, Boray HaKol, Creator of all things!

Yehi ratzon–May it be your will to put an end to war and bloodshed on earth, and to spread a great and wonderful peace over the whole world, so that nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.

Help us and save us all, and let us cling tightly to the virtue of peace. Let there be a truly great peace between every person and their fellow, and between husband and wife, and let there be no discord between people even in their hearts.

Let us never shame any person on earth, great or small. May it be granted to us to fulfill Your Commandment, “vi’ahavta larayacha k’mocha,” to "Love your neighbor as yourself," with all our hearts and souls and bodies and possessions.

And let it come to pass in our time as it is written, "And I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down and none shall make you afraid. I will drive the wild beasts from the land, and neither shall the sword go through your land. “

God who is peace, barcheinu b’shalom, bless us with peace !!!

Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

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