3) Can We Make Peace With Our Lack Of Control Over Other People?
It is true that we can legitimately make efforts to convince someone of our perspective. But do we recognize that ultimately the choices someone makes are not in our hands? Many of us believe that G-d is running the world, but find it difficult to accept this as we try every which way to control others so that reality conforms to our wishes.
With this attitude, when our car breaks down we scream at the mechanic who had said it was fixed. We miss a deadline at work and curse the colleague who wasn’t able to complete his part of the project on time. We fall behind on our bills and berate our spouse for what seems to be wasteful purchases.
Deep down we know such responses rarely improve the situation and can hurt anyone from a casual acquaintance to those we love the most. But it’s hard to control our anger when events do not turn out the way we wanted.
Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D. has worked with thousands of alcoholics and other addicts. In his commentary on the Haggadah, From Bondage to Freedom, Rabbi Twerski maintains that to some degree we all face the challenges of the addict in some form or another, and can benefit from the advice given to those involved in the 12-Step programs designed to treat such addictions.
In the so-called “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous, an oft-quoted passage speaks of the power of acceptance in dealing with difficult people and events:
“(A)cceptance is the answer to ALL my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation –some fact of my life—unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in G-d’s world by mistake…Unless I accept life on life’s terms I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and my attitudes.”
In light of the above, while we may continue to hope that people or circumstances can change for the better, we can also pray for what Rabbi Binny Freedman has called “the miracle of acceptance.”
4) How Badly Do I Want Peaceful Relationships?
Responding to the first three questions in a constructive manner is difficult and can take a fair amount of time and emotional energy. To follow Hillel’s dictum to “love peace and pursue peace” is easier said than done and requires a genuine commitment and continuing motivation. As Rabbi Zelig Pliskin notes in his book, Harmony With Others: Formulas, Stories and Insights:
“A question to keep in mind is: If I had an intense love of peace, what would I be willing to say and do?…So before getting involved in a quarrel, ask yourself: Compared to my ultimate purpose in life, how important is this?… Will I regret that I did not quarrel when I look back at my entire life?”
Consider how we might act if we or a loved one was ill with a serious disease. We would scour the Internet for relevant information. We would spare no effort to find the most qualified doctor for treatment. We would pray from the depths of our heart to G-d to grant a healing. All of this would force us to expend significant time, energy, sweat and tears which would flow from our deep desire to have a positive outcome.
Unfortunately, when it comes to peace making, we may spend more time searching for the best smart phone or watching a movie.
If we really value peace, we could read one of the many books and articles on the subject. We could talk to a rabbi, therapist or trusted friend about ways to ameliorate a tense situation. We could seek out our adversary and try to find common ground, or at least reduce the acrimony that is destroying the relationship. We would think and think again of how to express criticism and conflicting viewpoints in a humane and empathetic way. Perhaps most of all, we would pray for the wisdom and strength to actualize our commitment to peace.
One story which answers the above four questions in a beautiful way is found in biography of a humble rabbi who lived in Israel and was a source of comfort to prisoners and countless others in need of his compassion and concern. Rav Aryeh Levin truly embodied the title of the book, A Tzaddik in Our Time.
The author, Simcha Raz, tells of an owner of an ice-cream store with a long line of customers waiting to make a purchase on a hot summer Friday afternoon. However, Shabbat is gradually approaching and Rav Levin feels an obligation to preserve its sanctity. Of course, he could have ignored the issue by disassociating himself from Jews who didn’t share his beliefs. Or he could have delivered a stern lecture to the owner chastising him if he kept the store open.