Real Peace

June 24, 2009

7 min read


Vayeira (Genesis 18-22 )

Studies show that the average American teenager has seen hundreds of murders on TV.

As bad as this sounds, there's worse.

They've seen love stories, too.

By the time anyone with a TV gets married they have seen enough "happy endings" to make even the most cynical groom believe that all he has to do is kiss his bride in the morning and they will live happily ever after.

Action and romance movies train us to believe ridiculous things. Like murders only occur when gloomy music is playing in the background. I first learned how dangerous this "training" was when I was mugged in Los Angeles to the wrong background music.

People raised on this fodder believe dark music precedes bad things and that all marriages end in an argument. Happily married couples never argue, according to Hollywood, and couples that have even the slightest dispute are in big trouble. For some reason, even couples who have good marriages feel they need to protect their children from seeing their parents tackle thorny issues. "Not in front of the kids" is the parenting mantra for countless Westerners, in the vain hope that the children will never see an argument and therefore think they are happily married.

A careful reader of the Torah would have a hard time coming to that conclusion. I should add that no surveyor of married couples would believe that either. All people who are happily married argue. In fact, up to a point, there is a direct correlation between the amount of arguing and the amount of happiness in a marriage.

Rebbetzin Heller points out: "Anything meaningful is never finished." Anything that is meaningful will always need more work. You never get to the end.

This point is made frighteningly clear in this week's Torah portion. Abraham and Sarah, how should I say it, "go at it," but good.

The basic story is there for you to read but the outline is this: God informs Abraham that he is going to have a child. Sarah overhears and finds this rather amusing, being that she is "well advanced in years." Sarah remarks to herself how odd, after all these years and how "worn out" she is. On top of that, she notes, Abraham is pretty old too!

God finds Sarah's words a little, ummmm, let's say, out of line, and tells Abraham. For God, nothing is too difficult. How could Sarah doubt Him?

However, when God tells Abraham what Sarah said, He changes Sarah's words a little. Instead of what she really said, He tells him that she said, "Sarah was too old" (Genesis 18:13.)

Rashi, the pre-eminent Torah commentator, explains that, for peace, God changed Sarah's words.

Well, you can just imagine what happens next. Abraham had just been told by God that Sarah was, to say politely, lacking. Picture if you will, God came and told you about some indiscretion your spouse had committed.

And thus is the lead up to Sarah and Abraham, a long-married couple, "going at it," and this was no discussion about the virtues of Plato's philosophy. No, the argument they had could be summed up like this:

"Yes, you did."

"No, I didn't."

"Yes, you did."

"No, I didn't."

I know I shouldn't say this, but this is not what I would call, deep.

Before I go on to the lesson, I want to mention how absolutely riveting and meaningful this is. Rabbi Nachum Braverman has a cute line about this. "You want to know which couples in a restaurant have been married the longest? See who is talking the least."

After a few years, we pretty much know who our spouses are. And we give up trying to sway them on issues we have tried before. That's not a healthy marriage. Abraham and Sarah were married for decades and they never gave up on trying to help each other see the truth.

"Nothing in life that is meaningful is ever finished" (ibid). Marriage is meaningful.

OK, back to the story. Those who have been reading the Torah all the way through will have some troubling questions right about now. For one, in last week's Torah portion (Genesis 17:15-17), God tells Abraham that he is going to have a child (very similar to this week's story) and Abraham finds it so funny he falls over!

Pretty funny, heh? Not as humorous as the reaction of Sarah, who laughed only to herself. So, Abraham found it pretty funny and hard to believe that he who was 100 years old could have a child. Yet, God doesn't go to Sarah and tell her about Abraham's apparent disbelief. But He does tell Abraham when Sarah is the one who is lacking.

Not only that, but God changed Sarah's words, we are told, for peace. What peace? Because of what God told Abraham, I wouldn't say a war broke out, but I wouldn't call it peace either.

Better still, if God wants Sarah to believe it's possible for her to have a baby, God need say nothing and within a few months, Sarah will pretty much figure it out on her own.

Not only that, but when has it been the way of God to tell a husband the failings of his wife? I doubt many of us could survive for long if God told our spouses what we were really thinking. Anyone who has been married for more than about 10 minutes knows what I mean.

To sum up: For peace, God changed Sarah's words, but wouldn't it have been better to have not said anything?

* * *


There is no peace between the United States of America and New Zealand. I hope this news doesn't mean that we start landing troops on their beaches.

There is no peace, but there is no war either. There is nothing. You don't have peace with your bank manager, nor with the plumber or maid.

Peace is not a lack of conflict. The fact that we don't argue doesn't mean we have peace. Peace is the coming together of minds.

"Peace now" is as absurd a statement as "agree now."

When Abraham and Sarah both believed it was not possible to have children, they had peace. And therefore God did not tell Sarah that Abraham did not believe (in Chapter 17).

Only when Abraham came to believe it was possible and Sarah did not, then they no longer had peace. At that point, therefore, God came and told Abraham, "You don't have peace. Talk to your wife."

If you want to have peace you have to work out your differences.

God not only changed Sarah's words for peace, He told Abraham for peace.

* * *


So, why then did God change Sarah's words?

Let me explain.

Rarely do spouses fall out because of an argument over paint.

"Let's paint the room blue?"

"No, I prefer pink."

"What's wrong with blue?"

"Blue reminds me of your mother, and you know how she's got awful taste. I think that's where you got it from."

This argument will last years, and whatever paint color is finally chosen it will not resolve the issues.

When we are arguing it is of vital importance to not add things like, "And, you're too old." It doesn't help resolve the core issue because it has nothing to do with the issue. It will take us away from peace because it doesn't help us resolve our differences.

* * *


I would like to finish with this one thought: Peace comes through the resolving of issues. This is usually a distressful process, whether with spouses, families, friends or even with countries and cultures.

I believe the world is engaged in its current conflict over real issues and that, maybe, this is very different than previous conflicts, which were primarily over money.

If this is so, our future is bright.

Please God, this will lead to peace, real peace.

* * *


Question 1: Do you think the world is closer to real peace than 100 years ago?

Question 2: Are there things you don't like to talk about?

Question 3: When we say, "peace be upon you - Shalom Aleichem" what do we mean?

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