“The Elusive Blessing of ‘Peace’”
(updated and revised from Re’eh 5763-2003)

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 for peace and tranquility for the Jewish people.

In the opening words of the parasha, G-d clearly informs the Jewish people that His people 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, according to the Torah, Deuteronomy 11:27, אֲשֶׁר תִּשְׁמְעוּ אֶל מִצְוֺת השׁם אֱ־לֹקֵיכֶם, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם הַיּוֹם, is to hearken to the commands of the L-rd, which I command you this day. Sounds rather easy!

The Torah then declares that G-d will bring the people into the Holy Land that He promised to give them as an inheritance. However, they 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 theirs. How uplifting are the concluding words of Deuteronomy 12:18: וְשָׂמַחְתָּ לִפְנֵי השׁם אֱ־לֹקֶיךָ, בְּכֹל מִשְׁלַח יָדֶךָ, And, you shall rejoice before the L-rd your G-d, in your every undertaking.

Further amplifying the Al-mighty’s love for His people are the verses of Deuteronomy 14:1-2. The Torah poignantly declares: בָּנִים אַתֶּם לַהשׁם אֱ־לֹקֵיכֶם , You are the children of G-d…for you are a Holy people to the L-rd your G-d, and G-d has chosen you for Himself to be an עַם סְגֻלָּה , 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, שֶׁבְּכָל דּוֹר וָדוֹר עוֹמְדִים עָלֵינוּ לְכַלּוֹתֵנוּ , 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 ended in the ash-heap of history together with the other great nations and civilizations: the ancient Chinese and Egyptians, Persia, Greece, Rome, the Goths, the Angles, the Saxons, etc. The fact that we continue to exist against all odds, led the renowned British historian, Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975), 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. G-d warns the Jewish people, again and again, Deuteronomy 12:13 and 15:9: הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ Take heed!! 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 perspective. “Peace” for the Jewish people is not a factor of diplomacy or politics, although we certainly must engage in such. Peace for our people is a factor of the Jewish people’s spiritual relationship with G-d. Over 3000 years of historical empirical 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: מַה לָּךְ לְדֶרֶךְ מִצְרַיִם, לִשְׁתּוֹת מֵי שִׁחוֹר? Why do you run to Egypt to drink the waters of the Nile? וּמַה לָּךְ לְדֶרֶךְ אַשּׁוּר, לִשְׁתּוֹת מֵי נָהָר? 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, the Camp David peace accords between Israel and Egypt were 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, former “terrorist” Menachem Begin, whose motto was,שְׁתֵּי גָּדוֹת לַיַּרְדֵּן – זוֹ שֶׁלָּנוּ, זוֹ גַּם כֵּן ,” both sides of the Jordan are ours; both 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: בְּעֶזְרַת הַשֵּׁם“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, 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 actions and efforts 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, בִּמְהֵרָה בְיָמֵינוּ, speedily in our days. Amen.

May you be blessed.