One of the Jewish nation’s greatest blessings is peace. We greet each other with “Shalom” and when we depart from each other we likewise say, “Shalom.”
The Talmud writes that there is an obligation to bless every person with peace, and the birchas kohanim concludes with “grant you peace.”
Many midrashim address the importance of peace. R’ Elazar ben HaKapur said, “Great is peace because the entire Shemone Esrei concludes with the blessing of peace.” The Medrash also tells us that the peace covenant given to Pinchas was a great blessing because the world cannot be conducted without peace.
The last chapter of Tractate Derech Eretz is called the chapter of peace, and every mishnah in it begins with the words, “Great is peace.” We learn that the name of Hashem is peace; the name of Moshiach is peace; and Bnei Yisrael is called peace.
So great is peace, says the mishnah, that it is equal to all the acts of creation. We say every morning, “Hashem formed light and created darkness; He makes peace and creates all.” These words teach us that conflicting powers are imbued with peace so they can fulfill their mission in this world.
The Nesivos Shalom notes that everything in this world is composed of four basic elements – fire, water, wind, and earth – all of which clash with one another. Water can extinguish fire, wind can disperse the earth, etc., etc. How, then, do they co-exist in creation? He answers that shalom unites every creation in the service of Hashem.
The great rosh yeshiva R’ Aryeh Leib Shteinman pointed out that the world was created with fire and water. Rashi says (Bereishis 1:8) the rakia (firmament) was called shamayim because Hashem created it with a combination of fire and water. Why did He do so? To teach us that opposite powers can, in fact, live in harmony and unify in the service of Hashem. Even human beings – neighbors, family members, spouses – who are polar opposites in temperament or character can live peacefully in the service of Hashem.
Mefarshim elaborate that some colors seem to clash, but when blended properly, like in the rainbow in the sky, they become a beautiful synthesis of hues.
Our sages tell us that the presence of shalom is so important for the existence of the world that a person who has mercy on Hashem’s creations fosters Hashem’s great mercy on himself and mankind.
The Medrash Rabbah states that Avraham Avinu asked Shem, the son of Noach, how the family merited to be saved from the waters of the Flood. Shem responded that he didn’t know, but surely Hashem had mercy on them because of the great care, concern, and love they had for all the animals and wildlife with them.
We learn by implication that if the people living in the generation of the Flood would have been compassionate with each other, Hashem would have been compassionate with them, middah kneged middah, and they would have also survived the Flood.
In today’s world, it often seems that people find it difficult to maintain peaceful relations with others. Not only do they argue about major issues; they can’t even settle small issues.
In the last year, we have watched as differences between political parties protracted the impeachment proceedings and heavily impacted every law that needed to be voted on. Unfortunately, the discord and divide in the government has trickled down to the everyday man.
We have to remain vigilant to ensure that the Jewish community is not adversely affected by the winds of disagreement and disunity and maintains shalom among itself. One’s customs, family traditions, or community affiliation cannot, and should not, be imposed on another’s expression of avodas Hashem. We may feel that another’s derech is not for us, but we must respect and honor all people, regardless of whether we choose their path or not.
We know that Bais Hillel and Bais Shammai had different opinions about the laws of spiritual purity and defilement, as well as marriage, yet they married into each other’s families and ate from each other’s food.
Once, a controversial issue arose in Kovno and the kehillah adopted a policy that one of the wealthy community members strongly opposed. Feeling aggrieved, the man became estranged from the community and especially its rav, R’ Yitzchak Elchanan Spector. As the years went by, the antagonism only increased, and the wealthy man did not participate in any communal activities.
Once, he was invited to a seudas mitzvah and decided to attend. At the appointed time, he came to the seudah and sat at a table. When the great tzaddik R’ Yitzchak Elchanan arrived, the rich man remained seated, but R’ Yitzchak Elchanan immediately went over to him and gave him shalom. The wealthy man was shocked by the humility of the rav, but he promptly responded in kind.
R’ Yitzchak Elchanan had made a gesture of appeasement which, ultimately, was very worthwhile. Not only did the wealthy man once again become involved in the affairs of Kovno, he began to shoulder some of the community’s responsibilities.
A while later, a delegation came to the rav with upsetting news that accusations had been brought against the Jewish community, and the ruler had decreed that the community should be expelled.
R’ Yitzchak Elchanan immediately requested different askanim to exert their influence on the ruler, but all their efforts failed. They had seemingly run out of solutions when someone recalled that there was a rapport between the wealthy man and the ruler.
R’ Yitzchak Elchanan wasted no time in appealing to him for help. The man agreed to the rav’s request, and the decree was annulled.
When the crisis had passed, R’ Yitzchak remarked to his assistant, R’ Yaakov Lipshitz, “When I humbled myself before this man, many people were upset. They said I should not have foregone my honor. But who was right: I who demeaned myself or those who said I should have been concerned about my honor?
“My honor was not hurt in any way. But if I would not have reached out in conciliation, what would have been the lot of all the families in our entire community?”