First Seek Peace

There are three ways to bring unity between two opposites:

The first is by introducing a power that transcends both of them and to which they both utterly surrender their entire being. They are then at peace with each other because they are both under the influence of the same force.

But their being is not at peace—their being is simply ignored.

The second way is by finding a middle ground where the two beings meet. The two are at peace where they meet on that middle ground—but the rest of their territory remains apart and distant.

The third way is to reveal that the essence of every aspect of the two beings is one and the same.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Essential Peace”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

All the possessions and pleasures of the world are only valuable to the extent they are accompanied by peace of mind. A person who has tremendous riches and can gratify all of his desires, will nevertheless suffer if he lacks peace of mind.

As a rule, the power-hungry and the status-seekers lack this obvious realization. Why work on obtaining power and status when you have the ability to work on something that is much more precious? A peaceful mental attitude and serenity of the soul are the most important factors for happiness.

It is related that when an ancient emperor was about to sail for Italy, an advisor asked him what his ultimate plans were. “To conquer Rome,” he replied. “What will be after that?” “To conquer Carthage, Macedonia, and Greece.” “And after you have conquered all that, what are your plans?” Then I will be able to spend my life in peace and comfort.” “But,” queried the wise advisor, “why not be in peace and comfort right now?”

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #620”

What is it to be at peace? What is it to be at peace with others, especially those who seem to be the opposite as you? In Rabbi Freeman’s commentary, who or what is he talking about? Could it be reconciling between a man and a woman. Plenty of married people feel they are joined with an “opposite” who doesn’t understand the first thing about them? Then again, he could have been talking about man and God, but then, how could he suggest that a third and larger force be able to bring peace between them, when there is nothing larger than God? How about Christian and Jew, but certainly they are not the only “opposites,” for there are many different religious traditions that seemingly contradict each other.

God only knows
God makes his plan
The information’s unavailable
To the mortal man
We work our jobs
Collect our pay
Believe we’re gliding down the highway
When in fact we’re slip slidin’ away

-Paul Simon
from the song “Slip Slidin’ Away” (1977)

Like the ancient emperor in Rabbi Pliskin’s story, we too make all kinds of plans that, in the end, are designed to bring us pleasure and peace. Who knows if they’ll ever work, but we’ve got to try. Of course, that often means putting off pleasure and peace for a long time, maybe many years, until our “retirement,” if it ever comes. In the meantime, what do we do? Do we ever have peace? What is peace?

It seems like we are in a life that is constantly in conflict. The world is in conflict, people in different nations and within our own nation contend with each other. We ruin each other’s peace. Sometimes I think it would be better to be alone. Then at least, there would be peace and quiet. But is that what God intended when he said “be fruitful and multiply,” first to Adam and then to Noah? Probably not. We seem to be expected to make peace with our “opposite,” who in one sense is the mate God chose to correspond to us. But how is this done? Must we just plan and scheme and wait for peace to come like Rabbi Pliskin’s mythical emperor?

“The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

Luke 12:16-21 (ESV)

That didn’t work, either.

What’s the secret? What must we do? Some believe that we must understand what God wants us to do; how God wants us to obey Him, right down to the slightest detail, in order to find peace. Peace is not a state of mind then, nor is it a relationship with an opposite, neither with a spouse, nor with another person such as Christian or Jew, nor with God. Peace is the perfect “doing” of things, like the mitzvot, not due to a desire to please, or as a means to express compassion, grace, or love, but for the sake of simply doing and simply knowing how to do. Is that what God intended, actions and things to be placed above people and particularly loved ones? Does that being peace within and peace with others?

Rabbi Yaakov Ruderman, zt”l, the former Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Yisroel, reported a story which the Chofetz Chaim had told him.

The Chofetz Chaim used to visit the saintly Rabbi Nachum from Grodna. The Chofetz Chaim considered him to be his teacher and Rebbe, as he studied and learned from his holy actions and customs in all areas of Torah. Once, on one of the nights of Chanukah, the Chofetz Chaim was at his Rebbe’s home, and nightfall came and went. The hours passed, the street traffic thinned out, and still the candles of the menorah remained unlit. Much later, the wife of Rabbi Nachum returned home, and only then did his Rebbe kindle the Chanukah lights.

The Chofetz Chaim asked his Rebbe for an explanation of what had happened, for the halachah seems to say that the lighting should be done in an expedient fashion, and his Rebbe’s wife’s obligation could have been fulfilled with her husband’s lighting, even without her being home at the time.

Rabbi Nachum explained. The halachah tells us that if a person has only enough money for either Shabbos candles or Chanukah candles, the candles of Shabbos have priority, for the glow of the Shabbos candles ensures and guarantees tranquility in the house – Sh’lom Bayis. “My wife,” continued Rabbi Nachum, “is selfless and dedicated. It is to her credit that I am able to learn Torah and to be involved in the many Mitzvah activities which I handle. She enjoys being present when I light the Chanukah candles. It is for this reason that I decided that the consideration of “Sh’lom Bayis” takes priority, and I waited for her, rather than light earlier during the prime hour.”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Sh’lom Bayis comes first”
Shabbos 23b

Obviously, study, learning, and understanding the mitzvot of God is not irrelevant, nor would I ever suggest such a thing, but as we see in this example, it’s not the doing of things that is the most important of the mitzvot, it’s the caring for others, including one’s beloved spouse.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Matthew 6:19-21 (ESV)

Peace is not the absence of conflict, noise, strife, or struggle, but the presence of the heart. Our “treasure;” our peace, both within ourselves and with others including with God, is where ever we place our heart and our love.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (ESV)

How often is this simple lesson completely ignored or worse, reviled and ridiculed, in favor of “debate” and “argument” and “discussion” in order for people to jockey for position in the hopes of gaining some sort of superiority over their fellow disciples in Christ. Better that we just smile at and return our peace to those who continually seek to give us the gifts of strife and discord.

A caring person is an elevated person. It is a great act of kindness to express your caring for people who might not realize that you care about them.

Today, think of three people who would greatly appreciate your sincere caring. Be resolved to let them know that you care about them as soon as possible.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #619”

We see in examples from the Master, the Jewish Messiah King, from his emissary to the Gentiles, the Jewish “sage” Paul, and down to the Rabbis of the modern era, that love, peace, and caring are not something that we consider only after knowledge, study, and scholarship. They are the very goal for which we study. The Bible exists so that we may know God, not as a Professor knows history or as a Scientist knows chemistry or physics, but as a man knows a woman in total intimacy and love. It is from that love and intimacy with God that we can represent His Name and His grace to our fellow human beings, to our spouse, our children, our neighbors, and to even strangers. We are commanded to love. We are made to love, first God and then the world, just as God so loved the world (John 3:16).

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Mark 12:28-34 (ESV)

To those of you who have responded to me (for whatever reason) with anger and upset, I’ll have to take my lesson from Gandhi and refuse your “gift.” In seeking my peace, I desire to seek your peace as well. However, that is only available when we love God, for in loving Him and in loving our neighbor, can we be at peace with each other and within ourselves.

Shalom to you all.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.