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Re’eh 5763-2003

“The Elusive Blessing of  ‘Peace'”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Re’eh, contains some of the most exalted verses in the entire Torah concerning G-d’s promises of peace and tranquility for the Jewish people.

In the opening words of the parasha, G-d clearly informs the Jewish people that we have a choice–of blessing or of curse. The Torah provides a simple formula for the Jewish people to receive the blessing. All we must do is to “Hearken to the commands of the Lord” (Deut 11:27). Sounds rather easy!

The Torah then tells us that G-d will bring our people into the Holy Land that He promised to give us as an inheritance. However, we must, as a first step, cleanse the land of every vestige of idolatry and rid the land of the decadent practices of the Canaanites. After purifying the land, G-d adjures the people of Israel to sanctify the land, to worship with joy, and to appreciate the prosperity and tranquility that will be ours. How uplifting are the concluding words of Deuteronomy 12:18: “V’sah’mach’tah lif’nay Hashem Elokecha, b’chol mishlach ya’decha.” And you shall rejoice before the Lord your G-d, in your every undertaking.

Further amplifying the Al-mighty’s love for His people are the verses found at the beginning of Deuteronomy 14. The Torah poignantly declares: “Banim a’tem la’Hashem Elokeichem.” You are the children of G-d…for you are a Holy people to the Lord your G-d, and G-d has chosen you for Himself to be an “Am se’gulah,” a treasured people, from among all the peoples on the face of the earth. With such extraordinary blessings, what could go wrong?!

The Jewish people are indeed an “awesome” people. Awesome in their accomplishments, and awesome in their challenges. As we read every year in the Passover Haggadah: “In every generation they [the enemies of the Jewish people] rise up to destroy us.” Were it not for the Holy One, Blessed Be He, the Jews would have long ago ceased to exist as a people on the face of the earth.

And yet, to the consternation of many who wish us ill, we Jews consistently break the historical mold. Logically, the Jewish people should long ago have joined the ash-heap of history together with the other great nations and civilizations: Rome, Greece, the ancient Chinese and Egyptians, the Goths, the Angles, the Saxons, etc. The fact that we continue to exist against all odds led the renowned historian British Arnold Toynbee to derisively describe us as “fossils of history.” We Jews defy the conventional patterns of history and continue to survive, nay, even flourish. We rise phoenix-like from the ashes of Auschwitz to establish new communities, a new state, and flourishing Torah centers that equal or surpass even the most glorious periods of our people’s history.

Yet, somehow we never seem to learn the ultimate lesson of history. Unfortunately, the Jewish people appear to have a self-destructive disposition–a propensity to attempt to defy the Divine odds. (Deuteronomy 12:13, 15:9??) “Hee’shah’mer l’cha”–Take heed, G-d tells the Jewish people again and again. The formula for success and blessing is to follow G-d’s instructions. Failure to do so will result in destruction. No matter how successful we appear today, G-d will bring us low.

For the person of faith, Jewish history must be viewed from a perspective that is far different from the secular vantage point. “Peace” for the Jewish people is not a factor of diplomacy or politics, although we certainly may engage in such. Peace for our people is a factor of our spiritual relationship with G-d. Over 3,000 years of historical evidence serves as testimony that there has never been a period of peace for the Jewish people without a concomitant return to G-d. Over 2,000 years ago, the prophet Jeremiah (2:18) pleaded with the ancient Israelites: “U’mah lach l’derech Mitzrayim lishtot mai Shee’chor?” Why do you run to Egypt to drink the waters of the Nile? “U’mah lach l’derech Ashur lishtot mai nahar?” Why do you run to Assyria to drink the waters of the Euphrates? None of these alliances will be of any benefit to you! Peace for our people is a factor of our relationship with G-d!!

I have often wondered, why in 1978 was the Camp David peace agreement of Israel and Egypt concluded between Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin? Why was this peace not established earlier during the leadership of Golda Meir or Levi Eshkol–they were certainly more conciliatory, more likely peace partners than the old hardline Revisionist “terrorist” Menachem Begin, whose motto was “Sh’tay g’dot la’Yarden,” both sides of the Jordan are part of the Jewish homeland!

I believe that the Camp David peace agreement with Egypt is directly attributable to the fact that Menachem Begin was then the first Israeli Prime Minister in 30 years to utter the words: “B’ezrat Hashem,” With the help of G-d we will achieve peace. Never before had a Jewish Prime Minister pronounced that magical phrase! Begin opened the door just a little bit, and G-d responded with peace!

This is our challenge. In these fateful days, following the period in which we marked the destruction of both our Temples in Jerusalem and the expulsion of our people from the land, in these special days that usher in the coming month of Elul and the High Holy Day period, let us be certain to merit G-d’s blessings for peace and tranquility. Let us pray that the endeavors of the leaders of the State of Israel will give us reason to celebrate, and not mourn. Let us hope that in the coming months and year the elusive blessing, the blessing of peace, “Shalom,” for the people of Israel, will be ours. And that the coming days and years will usher in the ultimate peace, the Messianic peace, “Bim’hayrah b’yamaynu,” speedily in our days. Amen.

May you be blessed.