The Blessing of Peace
Behar-Bechukotai (Leviticus 25-27 )
This parsha deals with the blessing that we merit when we keep the mitzvot and the curse (Tochacha) which will befall Israel if they (we) don't follow the Torah's path. The greatest blessing is the blessing of peace, as Rashi points out:
"And I will give peace in the Land and you will lie down and no one will make you tremble; and I will rid every evil beast out of the Land; neither shall a sword pass through your Land."
And I will give peace in the Land - RASHI: Maybe you will say "there is food; there is drink, but If there is no peace there is nothing!" It therefore says after everything else, "And I will give peace in the Land." From this we learn that peace is equivalent to everything. And so it says (in Isaiah 45:7), "He makes peace and He created everything."
What prompted Rashi's comment?
WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?
An Answer: The verses before this one state that there will be much produce and the people will live securely in the Land. What need is there for the additional blessing of peace?
This additional blessing of peace, Rashi (and the Midrash) see as evidence that even if you have everything but do not have peace, then in reality you have nothing. Either because all you have could be lost in war, or because all you have is not enjoyable if you do not have peace.
But how does Rashi derive that "peace is equivalent to everything" from the verse he quotes?
There is another problem with this comment. Let us look at it first.
THE PROBLEM WITH RASHI
Rashi says: And so it says (in Isaiah 45:7), "He makes peace and He created everything." The commentaries point out that there is no verse as Rashi quotes. The similar verse, which is in Isaiah, actually says "He fashioned light and He created darkness; He fashioned peace and He made evil." It doesn't say, as Rashi says, "He fashioned peace and He made everything." What Rashi has quoted are not the words from Isaiah, but what we say daily in the morning prayers, the first of the blessings before the Shema. But Rashi seems to say his quote is from the Scriptures when he says, "And so it says..."
In addition to this apparent "misquote" on Rashi's part, another question is that according to the verse it does not say "everything." So how can we learn from the verse as it is, "He fashioned peace and He made evil," that peace is equivalent to everything?
How can we understand Rashi?
An Answer: Some commentaries suggest that the text we have in Rashi was not his original words. He did in fact quote the verse as it says, "He fashioned peace and He made evil." But then we have our second question above: the verse does not say "everything," so how can we learn from it that peace is equivalent to everything?
An Answer: Just as light is parallel to darkness (the first half of this phrase), so peace is parallel to evil (the second part). Evil means everything that is evil, thus peace means everything that is good.
The concept of peace and the longing for peace are central to the Jewish experience. In every generation, as it says in the Pesach Haggadah, we are threatened by our many enemies. This certainly contributed to our longing for the illusive peace. But the emphasis on peace in Judaism came long before our war-ridden history. As the quotes below testify:
- The Grace After Meals ends, "May Hashem bless His people with Shalom."
- The Shemoneh Esrai prayer ends with, "He makes Peace on high, may He make peace on us and on all Israel."
- The Kaddish ends the same way.
- The Priests' blessing ends with "Shalom."
- The final word in the Mishnah (the Oral Law) is "Shalom."
- The last word in the morning prayers is "Shalom." (Ashkenaz version)
- The last Mishnah in Eiduyot says that Eliyahu's sole purpose in coming before Mashiach is to make peace.
ONE MORE QUESTION
Another Question: Why do we need a special blessing for peace when the Torah includes, "you will live securely in your Land ... and no sword will pass through your Land"? Isn't that peace?
A DIFFERENT UNDERSTANDING OF PEACE
An Answer: The Ramban explains the peace in our verse as, "There will be peace among you and you will not fight one man with his brother."
This is not peace from our external enemies; rather, peace from internal fights and disagreements.
I dare say this is a blessing to which we would all say "Amen." And so may it be OUR will.