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Bechukotai 5771-2011

“Peace–The Greatest of All Blessings”

by Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald

This week’s parasha, parashat Bechukotai, is one of two parashiot that include the Tochachah, G-d’s reproof of the Jewish people. A second Tochachah is found toward the end of the book of Deuteronomy, in parashat Kee Tavo, Deuteronomy 26.

In both instances, G-d’s reproof of the Jewish people is preceded by abundant blessing.

In Leviticus 26:3, G-d tells the Jewish people, “Im b’chu’ko’tai tay’lay’choo, v’et mitz’vo’tai tish’m’roo, va’ah’see’tem oh’tahm,” If you follow My [G-d’s] decrees and observe My commandments and perform them, then I will provide rain at its proper time, the land will give its produce, the tree of the field will give its fruit, the threshing season will last until the vintage, and the vintage will last until the sowing, and you will eat your bread to satiety and you will dwell securely in your land.

This series of blessings concludes with perhaps the most exalted of all blessings (Leviticus 26:6): “V’nah’ta’tee shalom ba’ah’retz, oosh’chav’tem v’ayn ma’cha’rid,” and I will provide peace in the land and you will lie down and none will frighten you. The blessing continues: I will cause wild beasts to withdraw from the land and the sword will not cross your land.

G-d then promises the Jewish people that they will defeat their enemies, He will make the people of Israel fruitful and will establish His covenant with them. He concludes with the promise of great material abundance.

Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, 1040-1105, foremost commentator on the Bible) suggests that G-d is trying to allay the fears of the people who will soon be entering a new land. Perhaps, says Rashi, the people will say, “Here is food and here is drink, but if there is no peace, there is nothing!” Therefore, the verse emphatically assures the people that, after all this, “V’nah’ta’tee shalom ba’ah’retz,” I will provide peace in the land. Concluding his comments, Rashi declares: This teaches that peace is equal to everything else combined. As we find in the words of the first blessing of the morning Shema (paraphrasing Isaiah 45:7), “O’seh shalom, oo’vo’ray et ha’kol,” G-d makes peace and creates everything.

The commentators ask: What is added by the additional promise of peace? After all, the previous verse had already promised that the people would dwell securely in their land. Nachmanides (Ramban, Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, 1194-1270, Spanish Torah commentator) explains that the first blessing promises security from external enemies, while the second blessing assures the people of Israel that harmony will reign amongst them. Thus we see, that when Jews live in accordance with G-d’s will, G-d inspires all to live in peace and brotherly love.

The K’tav Sofer (1815-1879, Rabbi Abraham Shmuel Binyamin Sofer of Pressburg, leader of non-Chassidic Hungarian Jewry) explains this point further. Strife, he says, is frequently the result of fierce competition for material success. A person may feel consciously or subconsciously that another has more material riches than he has, and as a result of jealously, becomes angry. However, when people focus on the study of Torah and the performance of mitzvot, their foremost values become the spiritual aspects of life, and competition for material possessions ceases to be a concern. Furthermore, competition among scholars increases wisdom, and does not result in jealousy or contempt. The Talmud, in Berachot 64a, states, that Torah scholars increase peace in the world. The pursuit of truth among scholars has a bonding effect, promoting harmonious relationships.

The Torah narrative itself provides several examples underscoring the importance of peaceful relationships. G-d Himself promoted peace between Abraham and Sarah by changing the truth a little, and omitting the phrase, “v’adoni za’kain,” in Genesis 18:12 when Sarah described Abraham as old. The brothers of Joseph changed the truth by saying that their father Jacob had commanded Joseph to forgive them (Genesis 50:17). Rabbi Ishmael says (Jerusalem Talmud, Sotah 1:4): How great is peace, that we see that G-d even permits His name to be erased in order to instill peace between husband and wife in the Sotah ritual. And, of course, the final segment of the priestly blessing (Numbers 6:26) is the blessing of peace, for none of the previous blessings can be effective unless peace is included among them. Scripture asserts that G-d even orchestrates His world on the basis of peace. As the verse in Job 25:2 states, “O’seh shalom bim’ro’mahv,” G-d Who makes peace in the heavens.

A popular Jewish custom reflects the greatness of peace. When students have studied for many years and have concluded all the Talmudic tractates and Mishnayot, they celebrate with a Siyum, a concluding ceremony. The final words of the final tractate of the Talmud Uktzin are read, which state that Rabbi Simeon the son of Chalafta said, “See how beloved is peace, that when G-d wishes to bless the people of Israel, He could not find a vessel that could contain all the blessings except ‘peace.’” As it says (Psalms 29:11), “Hashem ohz l’ah’mo yee’tayn, Hashem y’va’raych et ah’mo va’shalom,” G-d will give strength to His people, He will bless them with peace.

How fortunate are we, the people of Israel, to have a Father who blesses us with peace.

May you be blessed.