Defining Peace

Friday, 28 June, 2013 - 12:19 pm

In this week’s Torah portion, Pinchas is awarded the covenant of peace from G-d for his zealotry at the end of last week’s Parsha. It is quite curious that the covenant of peace would be the reward for bloodshed. Accepting that there are times that bloodshed is called for by G-d is one thing. But one would think that a more appropriate covenant than that of peace would be offered as a reward.

On the other hand, perhaps our difficulty in understanding this stems from the way society has programmed us to define the terms like peace and social justice.

Commenting on the verse in Psalms, “G-d blessed His nation with peace,” the Talmud declares that the blessing of peace is the Torah, which was given to make peace in the world. Indeed if we believe that G-d is our Creator, then certainly the user’s manual that He provides contains all we need to know about how life should be lived. Following that logic, defiance of Torah values brings instability and the opposite of peace to the world.

Now let us return to Pinchas. The subject of his zealous act, Zimri, sought to introduce a destabilizing element, which would threaten the just and peaceful society that Moses was building upon G-d’s instructions through the Torah. The result of Pinchas’s action was the restoration of peace and justice and as such he was rewarded with a covenant of peace. Without question his actions were only correct because that is what G-d instructed under those circumstances. It is by no means a license for vigilante (in)justice. Taking the law into our own hands when it is against the will of G-d in the Torah, would represent a further destabilization and the opposite of peace.

Yet in world where the lines between right and wrong – just and unjust – peace and chaos – have become so blurred, it behooves us to take a moment and consider how we are determining which causes are just and which ones are bringing chaos to our society. I humbly suggest that we follow the old adage, “when all else fails, read the directions.” The Torah gives us some pretty good ideas about what is and what is not good for us as individuals, as a people, and indeed as a global society.

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Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


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