WAR AND PEACE
This week in our parasha, the Israelites learn the rules for times of war; who should fight, how the battles will be won and what to do if they are victorious. Some of the rulings seem very harsh to us today but there are a number of overarching themes which are significant and important. The Israelites are warned against wanton destruction. Nothing is to be destroyed on the land, especially not fruit trees and if trees must be cut down for use in the war efforts it should be only what is needed. (Deuteronomy 20:19-20)
One of the most striking rules is that before the Israelites wage war on another group, they must first offer terms of peace. (Deuteronomy 20:10) There are no winners in war, and the ultimate goal is to live and exist in peace. In Jewish teachings, peace is more than an absence of war, it is wholeness, completeness, perfection. And it is that state of being for which the Israelites and indeed all Jewish people are to strive. The value of peace is embedded in every aspect of Jewish thought and teaching. In our greeting, “shalom” is the wish for peace. And even asking, “ma shlomcha?” “how are you?” is literally asking, “How is your peace?” “Are you at peace?” at one, whole within yourself. Jews are taught to strive for peace not just between nations but also between people and even within ourselves. We are all looking for that wholeness and oneness.
Our prayer book is replete with petitions for peace and every service contains “Oseh Shalom.” Of the Torah it is said, “all its ways are pleasantness and all its paths are peace.” As we interpret the Torah we must do so with peace in the forefront of our minds. If there are two possible scenarios or interpretations, we are to choose the one which brings peace. But we are not to wait for peace to descend on us by an act of grace from God, rather we are required to chase after it. “Seek peace and pursue it,” calls our Torah. The commentators ask why does it say we should seek and pursue peace, surely they are one and the same act. They answer that we must seek peace in our communities, and pursue it for the whole world.
Our task is to bring peace through our active involvement and engagement. This week the Israelis and Palestinians continue their talks for peace. They are walking a difficult road together, there will need to be compromises on both sides, decisions made which will be heartbreaking and difficult for both groups but with the value of peace ever before them, we pray that they will reach a place where we can truly say that peace has descended finally, on both peoples.
Oseh shalom bimromav, Hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu ve al kol Yisrael ve al kol yoshvei tevel. Amen May the One who makes peace in the heavens, bring peace upon us, upon all Israel and upon humanity. Amen.