Yearning for real peace … just like Jeremiah
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Yearning for real peace … just like Jeremiah

Nanuet Hebrew Center, New City, Conservative

Rabbi Paul Kurland
Rabbi Paul Kurland

A few weeks back, while I was studying the weekly Torah portion, the laws of war jumped out at me.

It became clear that there is a good reason why the Torah doesn’t just outlaw war altogether and simply command peace. It’s because the Torah wasn’t given to angels but to human beings, and human beings are and forever will be imperfect. The Torah guides us in this real world, not in some impossible perfect world. Sadly, war is sometimes an evil necessity.

Still, we must forever strive toward peace. Before going to war, the Torah teaches that we must offer terms of peace. Later rabbinic law teaches that the attacker should hold the peace offer out for at least three days, giving the enemy time to consider.

When it comes to peace, we must never stop dreaming or trying.

In Rockland County recently (and around our nation and world for far too long) the headlines have been screaming out too often about conflict and fighting; an all-out war of words. Jeremiah cried out, “Peace, peace, but there is no peace.” He surely was describing today’s world and the climate in Rockland County as well. Therefore, we need to be reminded of how the Torah teaches us to conduct war, conflict, and disagreement. We are taught to do so in as ethical a way as possible, considering all the cruelties and tragedies. It is quite clear that we aren’t finding enough people who are putting these teachings into practice.

On its most basic level, peace is a cease-fire. But this is only the first step. As John F. Kennedy once said, “The mere absence of war is not peace.” In our tradition, we know that the word shalom has a deeper meaning. It comes from the Hebrew root meaning wholeness or completeness. To me it’s like a jigsaw puzzle, with all the pieces in their proper places.

Real peace is a sense of wholeness, where the two parties find out how to fit together while maintaining the dignity of the other.

As we continue to fight with each other in Rockland over vile videos and overcrowding, it is difficult to find those who are reaching out for real peace; a peace of wholeness, a peace of completeness, a peace of dignity. Peace will happen only when both sides see the other and recognize both their humanity and their legitimate aspirations. Peace will only happen when good-minded people come together to explore and debate the issues without demonizing the other. Only those who can reach out to the other with the desire to find the harmony of compromise will be able to succeed.

Let us find those people and bring them together.

Jeremiah just may be correct when he recognized, “Peace, peace, but there is no peace.” Our dream must be finally to learn how to put into practice the sweet vision of the song we sang as youngsters, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” It’s really the only way we can ever hope to build a more beautiful world.

Paul Kurland is the rabbi of the Nanuet Hebrew Center in New City.

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