May 21, 2021
This past weekend (which feels like eons ago) I experienced the most incredible spiritual whiplash. We celebrated Shavuot, a holiday dedicated to the giving of Torah, of revelation, of the covenant, as was as joined together in the sacred ceremony of Confirmation with nine of our young adults and their families. But when the Holiday came to an end, I returned to the horrible news of ongoing fighting between Israel and Hamas, and the terrible accident of a bleacher failing, killing and injuring those trying to celebrate Shavuot.
I spent most of this week, listening to many different perspectives of the plight of the Palestinians as well as the outright fear Israelis are dealing with falling rockets. I do understand this conflict and there are so many nuances and “sides” to this current flare-up that is reflective of fault on all sides. The fear, the confusion, the anger, the rage, spread faster than any virus that we have been dealing with.
What are we to make of this moment of burning buildings, of militarized police and soldiers, of rockets and airstrikes? What are we to make of the inoocent victims on both sides and the children who are being harmed? Our souls cry. Our souls rage. We created a world out of that rage. With bitterness we enslaved our opinions of each other, with anger we committed violence and war. The rabbis have taught us that it was rage that pushed Cain to pick up the rock to slay his brother. It’s the rage of Abel’s blood that cries up from the ground for eternity. We know of the sorrow and the anger. The world given to us by the past and now unfolding in the riveting present explodes with it. Yet in all places and in almost all times, there is an enduring prayer for peace. Peace is the one thing that everyone in the world has always wanted but we have never found. What are we to make of this moment?
Peace is something we want but cannot achieve it on our own. Thousands of years of history have shown us that power to make peace always leaves some people out. Even the most peaceful of nations have tortured, demeaned some for the sake of others. The rabbis knew that each of us made of flesh and blood are bad vessels for peace. “The power of peace is too heavy for them,” the angels said, “because they can hate, and return rage with rage.” (Deut. Rabbah 5:15)
We have captured fire and lighting. We have built bridges and towers. We have moved rivers and oceans. We changed the world with great feats of wonder, but we have not found the most wondrous of treasures – peace. We have put men and women in rockets and have them cross the threshold into space but we can’t walk them across the threshold to their own homes. We can put the power of the world in their pockets, but fail to empower those who have nothing in their pockets. We can see each other’s faces across the globe in real time, but we refuse to see the face of God being crushed under crumbling building or the neglect that we have perpetuated. Why does peace seem so elusive?
When peace seems so far away, The Book of Numbers gives us a nudge. It is in this week’s Torah portion, Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89), that our most important blessing is found:
May God Bless you and Keep you. May God’s face shine light and grace upon you. May God’s face be lifted upon you and place upon you peace. (6:24-26)
This is the blessing we give to each other every Friday night. This is the blessing we give to children as they rise to meet the Torah. This is the blessing that we give to couples under their wedding canopy. This is the blessing that we recite at the height of our most sacred services. This three-fold blessing — words of protection, grace, and peace, is here in the dark book of Numbers – why?
I’d like to believe that it is this moment that the Torah speaks the loudest and the deepest. This is the moment we need to hear this blessing and teaching more than any other. No tool ever invented nor political system ever devised has brought us peace. Whether you believe in God or not, believing in the very possibility of peace means imagining a world that we have never known.
To seek peace is to use our imaginations to look beyond our collective experience and history and to dream of a different reality. While the dream is God’s to share with us, it is our responsibility to act on God’s behalf. It is in this very moment where we must reach beyond this world and grasp for another. To use the blessings we do have to make this world into that world. Revelation after all doesn’t just come from mountaintops. May Peace come soon to Israel and to all of the world.