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February 24, 2022

02/24/2022 12:03:31 PM


Rabbi Hearshen

As I’m writing these words, I’m watching the news as a war is beginning in our world. A war with no justification but with the potential to quickly spiral out of control, and possibly drag more and more of our world into chaos and bloodshed. I had planned on writing a very different article for this week and now I’m writing one about war. I see Torah all around the world and right now I’m thinking of the Torah of Yoda from the Star Wars universe, “Wars not make one great.” There’s no sacredness in starting a war. There’s no sacredness in attacking the innocent. There’s no sacredness in shattering the peace and quiet of life. A war is not a sign of strength so much as it’s a sign of weakness and an inability to act in a humane and caring way.

Each time Hamas launches missiles at Israel, we constantly use the refrain that the US would never tolerate, nor should they be expected to, if missiles were being fired at our country from Mexico or Canada. The Ukrainians, likewise, cannot be expected to sit still as war has been thrust on them by their neighbor, Russia.  The Torah enumerates a long list of laws for warfare. It’s odd that something that seems to have no rules, war, has a set of rules from God to the world. It’s not because war is good but because war is something that, while inevitable, should never be accepted.

Ukraine is a very historically Jewish land. It’s in the midst of the infamous Pale of Settlement where Jews of Eastern Europe were forced to live for over a century. It’s the location over one million of Hitler’s victims called home prior to their murder. The legacy of Judaism is so great that the current President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, is one of the few Jewish heads of state in the history of the world. The immediate past Prime Minister is also Jewish. President Zelensky lost numerous family members in the Holocaust. This only adds to the atrocious and ridiculous claims made by the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, that he’s seeking to eliminate Nazism from Ukraine.

Our community is called אור ושלום/Or VeShalom. In English it is Light and Peace. We are all familiar with the Hebrew word Shalom. As children, we were taught it means: hello, goodbye and peace. This is true but what it actually means is peace. The hello and goodbye are implied because we say “peace be with you” when we encounter another person and we say “go in peace” when we part ways. The root for שלום is ש.ל.מ and is the root for the Hebrew words of paying and completing. So peace is achieved when people are allowed to feel a sense of wholeness. It’s certain that at this time our world is incomplete and definitely broken. It’s also certain that all is uncertain. Our name is about wholeness and about light. Conflict is about division and darkness.

I’m struck at this moment by the words of Pirkei Avot 1:12:

הִלֵּל וְשַׁמַּאי קִבְּלוּ מֵהֶם. הִלֵּל אוֹמֵר, הֱוֵי מִתַּלְמִידָיו שֶׁל אַהֲרֹן, אוֹהֵב שָׁלוֹם וְרוֹדֵף שָׁלוֹם, אוֹהֵב אֶת הַבְּרִיּוֹת וּמְקָרְבָן לַתּוֹרָה:

Hillel and Shammai received [the oral tradition] from them. Hillel used to say: be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving mankind and drawing them close to the Torah.

Hillel and Shammai were from two different Jewish schools of thought that were almost always at odds with each other. They found little, if anything, to agree about. And yet this text reminds us they both came from the same origin. It reminds us they both had claim to the Torah. It goes on to discuss words from the better known of the two, Hillel, “be like students of Aaron, love peace and pursue peace.” We are not permitted to allow violence and chaos to take over the world. We are not just to hope for peace, but to be active in making peace. We need to go out and “pursue” peace. The path to pursue peace is loving all people and doing so through the ethics and values of our religion and tradition. Let us each pray that the aggressors will find room in their hearts to see the humanity in their “enemy.” Let us all pray this war can be ended when more and more accept a pursuit of peace and not a need and desire for power.

Sun, June 26 2022 27 Sivan 5782