"And I Will Bring Peace to the Land..."

  • Harav Aharon Lichtenstein

 

Summarized by Dov Karoll

 

In the blessings at the beginning of this week's parasha (26:5-6), the Torah promises:

"And your threshing will continue to the time of gathering grapes, and that will continue until the time of sowing, and will eat your bread in satiety, and dwell safely in the land. And I will bring peace to the land, and you will be able to sleep unafraid; I will remove all evil beasts from the land, and the sword will not pass through your land."

In the first verse, the Torah promises economic prosperity. For an agricultural society, this is expressed by large quantities of produce. The second verse expands this promise to speak of national peace. Rashi comments (26:6 s.v. Ve-natati):

"We see from here [verse 6] that peace is as valuable as all the rest, as it says, 'The Maker of peace and Creator of everything.'"

Rashi's claim can be understood in three ways. One possible understanding is that peace is quantitatively as valuable as those blessings which precede it. Prosperity has certain value for a person interested in leading a pleasant life, and peace has more value. There was a group in England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Benthamites, or Utilitarians) who followed the principle of "philosophic calculus." The goal of this ideology was to bring "the greatest amount of pleasure to the greatest amount of people." They would measure the ethical value of actions according to this scale - how much pleasure (or suffering) it brought to how many people. Within this ideology, to say that peace is as valuable as other goals would be an "objective" calculable statement. Peace simply has a higher point value - it brings the most satisfaction to the most people.

A second possible understanding of how peace parallels other blessings assumes that peace in and of itself is not more significant than other blessings. If given a choice between peace and prosperity, perhaps prosperity would be preferable. However, prosperity without peace is insecure. The military investments, as well as the possibility that the prosperity will be ruined by war, limit the scope of peace-less prosperity. While peace alone would not be preferred to prosperity, the combination of peace and prosperity is preferred to the potential absence of both. Thus, peace is as valuable as prosperity inasmuch as it enhances the prosperity.

The third possibility is that peace is qualitatively different from, and superior to, prosperity. In verse 5, the prosperity is described as an ideal state, but within the realm of normal human existence. It presents ideal physical success within the natural system. In verse 6, the concept of peace is described as a super-natural existence. Rashi (s.v. Ve-cherev) explains the last part of the verse ("the sword will not pass through your land") to mean that foreign armies will not even pass through Israel to fight elsewhere. In other words, there will be not even a hint of war in Israel. This explains how the promise of peace is greater than the concluding phrase of the preceding verse, "and you will dwell safely in the land." While the former verse refers to a secure, war-free existence, the latter verse promises a peaceful, harmonious one.

The Ramban (26:6 s.v. Ve-hishbati) explains these blessings as being even farther removed from normal existence. He sees verse 6 as referring to the Messianic era. The words "and I will remove all evil beasts from land" refer to the famous verses in Yeshayahu (11:6-9): "And the wolf will dwell together with the lamb ... with a young child leading them; and the cow and bear will graze, as well as raise their children, together ..." Thus, according to the Ramban, the ramifications of peace are far more significant than those of prosperity. The peace which is described here is the apex of all human existence - a level far beyond any agricultural success. According to this third approach, peace outweighs all other blessings because it brings about an entirely different society.

The significance of peace within Jewish existence is highlighted by many statements of Chazal, such as the final Mishna in Shas (Uktzin 3:12):

"Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta says: God has no vessel containing blessing other than peace, as it says (Tehillim 29:11), 'God gives strength to His people; God blesses His people with peace.'"

Rabbi Shimon teaches two different lessons in this statement. The first is that peace is the primary means to achieve blessing, comparable to the second possibility mentioned above. Other blessings descend into this world through peace. The second lesson is that peace creates the framework (the "vessel") for the delivery of God's blessings within this world. Peace creates the necessary backdrop for all other good that the Jewish people receive.

It is important to appreciate the significance of this value. Very often, people tend to neglect the significant nature that shalom (peace) plays within Judaism, and it is important to keep this in mind. In light of the current state of affairs here in Israel, it is important to remember that ultimately peace is a very high ideal. There are many people within the religious camp who are opposed to the current peace process. There are a variety of different sources to this opposition, and these different approaches reflect varying degrees of loyalty to the above-stated principle.

There are certain people who are opposed to the peace process because they feel that it is counterproductive. These people believe that territorial compromise will not bring to peace, but rather to the opposite, God forbid. This approach, opposing this process on strategic grounds, shows no disregard for the value of peace itself. Rather, it reflects a different understanding of the means to achieve peace. Once the given strategic assumptions are made, the opposition is perfectly understandable. For the people who take this stand, peace remains a significant, perhaps even ultimate, value.

There are other people who oppose the current peace process for a more basic reason. They feel that while peace is a significant value, the need for the Jewish people to retain the land of Israel is an even higher value. According to this approach, the mitzva of conquering the land, and retaining it, precludes any compromise in obtaining peace. This approach makes certain assumptions regarding the setting of priorities within Judaism, assumptions which can be questioned. While this approach does not make peace the highest priority, it does not necessarily deny its significance either.

There is a third, more problematic opposition to peace. This approach builds off of pro-peace statements made by certain political leaders, which indicate that peace is to be sought after for pragmatic, economic purposes. The people who take this approach, and I have heard more than one of them on the radio, claim that the Jewish people have no need, or desire, for peace in itself. They assume that peace has no value beyond that which these politicians give it, namely, economic value. They then proceed to question the validity of the arguments linking peace to prosperity, or claim that there are values greater than prosperity. These people are denying the significance which Judaism assigns to peace! Why do they limit the advantages of peace to those stated by politicians, when there is such a clear path set down by Judaism itself?! This approach is very dangerous, and is at odds with the true significance of peace. It is important to appreciate at least the theoretical significance of peace, even if not the practical application to our day.

In summary, in order to achieve our goals as a nation, the Jewish people must aim toward peace as a central goal. This is true for all of the above-mreasons - because peace is quantitatively the best blessing, it serves as the framework for further blessing, and is the qualitatively different mode of existence for which we ultimately yearn.

 

(This sicha was originally delivered at Seuda Shelishit, Shabbat Parashat Bechukotai 5757.)