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Bechukotai 5768-2008

“The Double-Edged Sword”

by Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald

This week’s parasha, parashat Bechukotai, is one of two parashiot of the Torah that contains extensive reproof of the Jewish people known as the Tochaycha (reproof).

The Torah is always careful to balance reproof of the people with abundant blessings. While the blessings in parashat Bechukotai appear to be much briefer than the curses it is only because they are stated in general terms while the curses are presented in great detail. Had the curses been summarized like the blessings, they too would have been much briefer.

The parasha opens with a series of blessings. In the last of the first set of blessings G-d says to the Jewish people (Leviticus 26:6): “V’nah’tah’tee sha’lom ba’ah’retz, oosh’chav’tem v’ayn mah’chah’reed, v’hish’bah’tee chah’yah rah’ah min ha’ah’retz, v’che’rev loh ta’ah’vohr b’ahr’tz’chem,” And I will provide peace in the land, and you will lie down with none to frighten you; I will cause wild beasts to withdraw from the land, and the sword will not cross your land.

Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, 1040-1105, foremost commentator on the Bible) notes that by concluding the first set of blessings contained in the opening verses of the parasha with the blessing of peace, the Torah teaches that peace is equal to all the other blessings combined. Rashi further asserts that so powerful is the blessing of peace that not only will Israel’s enemies not threaten war, they will not dare to step foot in the land of Israel should they journey to do battle in other countries.

The Talmud, in tractate Taanit 22b, asks about the nature of the sword that G-d promises will not cross into the land of Israel. Since the verse clearly states, “And I will provide peace in the land,” the sword referred to could not possibly be a sword of war. Obviously, the Torah must surely be referring to a sword of peace.

Rabbi Ben-Zion Firer suggests that the Torah, which has “seventy faces,” is teaching that there are actually two types of peace. At times, peace stems from internal factors resulting from the goodness of the people. However, there is also a coerced peace that is a consequence of external forces. Internal, intrinsic peace is a peace of blessing. Imposed peace is often a curse.

It is not uncommon for citizens of a nation to have reason to dispute with one another, leading to an absence of peace and tranquility in the land. When citizens, however, make great efforts to resolve their individual differences and allow brotherly love to prevail in the land, such a land is blessed.

There are, however, times when peace is imposed by outside forces. When external enemies threaten the land, it is not unusual for citizens to be drawn together despite their differences in order to fight off the foreign invaders. Suddenly a transformation takes place within the nation. Internal differences are forgotten and the entire nation focuses on saving the country from the onslaught of the invading forces. The previously burning issues that divided the citizens such as lack of equality, economic differences and gaps between the rich and the poor are suddenly rendered inconsequential. This is not a true peace. In many instances, it is only a temporary respite and differences are put aside only as long as the outside threat lasts.

Rabbi Firer also argues that just as there are two natures to peace so too are there two natures to the sword. There is a sword that is entirely nefarious, and there is also a sword that may actually be a sword of blessing. When true peace prevails among the people, then a sword that strikes is a horrible curse that comes to shorten lives. However, when there is no real peace internally, an external sword may actually prove to be a blessing and harbinger of peace. Although it is imposed, the sword of enmity may prove to be of great benefit. After all, an imposed peace is better than no peace at all.

What then is G-d promising His people? The verse states, “And I will provide peace in the land.” The Al-mighty assures His people that the peace that shall prevail will be an internal peace, stemming from brotherly love among the citizens. When the Torah submits that “the sword will not cross your land,” it guarantees a peace of blessing that is internal, not imposed.

How will the Al-mighty bring about an internal peace? After all, brotherly love is rather rare. Perhaps a clue can be found in the verse that states, “And I will cause wild beasts to withdraw from the land.” While the Torah may literally be referring to security from wild animals that prey on the populace that lives in non-developed areas, it may also be referring to the beastly nature that may be found in human beings. When there is no true peace in the land, it is often because humans behave like animals. However, when true peace prevails, human beings rise to the level of angels.

And, after all this, what is the source of true peace? It is through commitment to Torah and Torah values that people learn not to “sweat the small stuff,” that enables them to see the larger picture and to overcome larger difference between one another. It is the Torah, the elixir of life, that is the true Divine source of peace.

Let us, therefore, pray for the day when G-d will provide peace on earth, a time when none will frighten us when we lie down, when wild beasts will withdraw from our lands and from our hearts, and when nation shall not lift up sword against nation and no longer practice war.

May you be blessed.