Why Is Peace So Hard?

May 16, 2010

15 min read


Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89 )

"May God ... grant to you peace." (6:26)

Peace is not achieved because you hate war.
Peace is only achieved when you love peace.
(based on Pirkei Avot 1:12)

Peace is not the mere cessation of hostilities. America does not have peace with New Zealand - it just doesn't know where it is.

Lack of fighting does not mean peace. The fact that you don't argue with your cleaning lady does not mean you have more peace with her than your spouse.

Achieving peace is not only a skill, it's a virtue. You have to truly love peace. Without that, it is impossible for people to achieve any kind of real peace.

Let me try and be a little clearer. Which is easier - to make peace between the Russians and the Chechens, or to create peace with all the members of your family? As much as the Russians-Chechen conflict feels easier, that's only because it's not your challenge. As I like to say, "There are only two sides of an argument when you are not one of them."

Whatever issues you have with your brother, mother-in-law, neighbor, etc., cannot be as deep and formidable as the ones that bother the Chechens.

The same is true for all the so-called intractable issues of the world. Telling them to "just get along" is meaningless. Not because it's not what they should do. It's just that you don't do it either.

The reason you don't have peace with people close to you is because you feel that they did something improper. "It's their fault!" And that's what the Russians, Turks, Kurds, Chinese, Taiwanese and Chechens all say. Welcome to war.

And since you don't do it (truly embrace and love peace), you don't really know how to tell them to achieve peace either.

Peace is universal - whether it's with your family or between continents. In other words, the same obstacles exist between you and your Uncle Joe whom you haven't spoken to in 25 years as between the Catholics and the Protestants.

It's for this reason the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not be solved because (and I hate to say it) neither side truly wants peace.

My note to the reader: It's at this point that my editor fell off his chair, and since he probably had the same reaction you are having, I present his comments:

EDITOR: "What were the prior rounds with Clinton and others about when the Israelis were ready to sign a peace deal?"

As Shakespeare said, "A rose by any other name would be as sweet." (Romeo and Juliet). Yes, the Israelis want a cessation of open violence with the Arabs, meaning no armed conflict. However, that's not the same as loving and wanting peace.

Real peace is a state of being, not just with yourself but with everyone around you. Simply not shooting each other is not peace anymore than buying your wife a birthday card is love. It may be a start, but there is a lot more that is needed - like a desire for true peace or love, so that when you present the treaty or card it really means something.

EDITOR: "Do you really believe most Israelis truly do not want peace? Other than extreme hardliners, most Israelis want peace and security."

There is nothing wrong with wanting security, that's fine. Just don't confuse it with peace. Let me give you an example. You are sitting at a restaurant in downtown Manhattan enjoying a great meal with your family. Across the street is a homeless child begging for dinner. Do you have peace?

No, of course not. Why? Because the world is not at peace.

You have security, not peace. You have security because that child is not going to shoot you for dinner. But because she doesn't have peace, you don't have peace either.

I would hazard a guess that the difference between "Most Israelis" and the "Extreme hardliners" is that one says they want peace and security, and the other says they want security. However, in truth, both only really want security. This makes a big difference. If anyone really wants peace, then armed conflict would not be the issue on the table.

Let me give an example, I was called in to help with a domestic violence issue. While I was there the police showed up. Both me and the police wanted the aggression to end. However, the police considered it a success that hostility stopped. I didn't.

For me, it was a complete failure. True, they stopped shouting at each other but their anger never assuaged.

The violence stopped but they didn't achieve peace. My goal was peace. The police were only interested in security.

Someone who beats his children does not want peace. Not with his children nor with anyone else - he just doesn't want aggression (on himself). Someone who wants true peace wants peace with everyone he meets.

EDITOR: "Are you suggesting that Israelis' desire for security means that they are not interested in true peace?"

You can want security and you can want peace, you just can't want both at the same time.

If you have peace then security is redundant. Since I have peace, I don't need security.

If you want security, it means you have given up on peace, at least for the time being.

Listen, nobody in the world wants peace more than Jews. The reason Jews give so much in charity is their desire for peace. We feel the incongruity and lack of harmony in the world, and therefore the lack of peace. This is what drives so many Jews to right the perceived wrongs in the world and bring harmony.

However, just as communism was an effort to quiet the disharmony between the rich and the poor (which by the way was a dismal failure), simply giving the poor money doesn't bring them happiness. So too, enhancing an army or building a taller fence, doesn't bring the world closer to peace.

It's OK to want security, but it's a mistake to think that security will bring peace.

EDITOR: "Where do you draw the line on seeking true peace with our Arab neighbors? Would you give up land Hashem promised to the Jews, such as Jerusalem, in the name of true peace with Arabs?"

I see you are having a hard time with this idea.

The concept of giving up anything for peace is an oxymoron. Peace is not achieved that way anymore than you can achieve peace with your spouse by not beating her. You may be able to achieve security, although that's dubious, but never peace.

If you have peace then we all live as one, you don't give up anything.

EDITOR: "Are Israelis supposed to lay down all of their weapons and armies and extend a hand of peace to Hamas and the other Arabs, who seek the annihilation and destruction of the Jews?"

Of course not.

But this is the mistake in the argument. You equate "laying down arms" with "extending a hand of peace."

Peace is not giving in.

Let's go back to our domestic violence story above. Even though I considered it a failure, nevertheless security is a valid and meaningful goal. If the parties are not violent with each other, they can achieve a fair degree of self fulfillment, and that is worth it. That's why we have police, so each can live undisturbed by his neighbor. However, living undisturbed is not peace.

Peace only happens when the parties join together in unity. They have to desire to live with and love humanity. They have to see every human being as precious and value life. Unfortunately, this is not a value promulgated in Arab society. And as such peace is not an option.

The process to achieve true peace will happen when the Jewish people love peace to the point we seek it with every member of the Jewish people. When we do that, we will be able to show and teach the world how to do it too.

EDITOR: "Are you saying that since all of this is in Hashem's hands we are to make peace with the Arabs even though we know they want to kill us?"

No, not that either.

I am saying it is in Hashem's hands, but that doesn't mean we should be reckless, it means it's a message to us.

If you want peace, make peace with your fellow Jew - only then will we have peace with our fellow Arab.

Let me try and explain. The 20th century saw more inventions than any other century in history. Many changed the course of how we live. Of them all, which was the most meaningful?

If you want to think about it a little, go ahead because you are probably going to find my answer rather shocking.

Nuclear weapons created the greatest period of Western tranquility. Not because we love peace, but because we hate destruction. The fear of mass destruction is the reason the West has not gone to war in 65 years. You therefore have to wonder if ridding the world of "The bomb" will only take us back to the horrendous conflicts of pre-second world war Europe.

I believe that's a very real possibility, because you don't achieve peace by hating war, but rather it's achieved through loving peace. The West does not love peace, they merely hate war.

EDITOR: "Do you really think the idea of nuclear weapons as a peacemaker applies to a nuclear armed Iran - by a country and leader that would just as soon kill us as their own people?"

For sure. This is obvious. Do you think the West could have cared any less what happens in Iran if it were not for the fact they are trying to go nuclear?

It's because of nuclear weapons that the West has come the closest it has ever to being their brother's keeper. The West has a very strong self interest in seeing peace in the Middle East. It's a shame this is what it takes, but it's better than the alternative.

Similarly, because of the threat of Arab countries against Israel, we have so much unity in Israel. You will have to go back a long way to find a time when the Jewish people were so unified as they are today.

EDITOR: "Do you think the Jews are really unified today? They seem to be so dis-unified. If they are so unified, why can't Jews seek to achieve peace on our side?"

Peace is a continuum. You can have more peace today than you did yesterday. It's not all or nothing. Similarly, you can be at a greater sense of peace with your spouse.

Pay close attention: RELATIVE to anything in the last 2000 years (if not longer) we live in the greatest peace of the Jewish people. That is with the Jews living in Israel.

Consider this. The gap in values between a left-wing secular and a right wing religious Israeli is massive. I would be hard pressed to think of a time when Jews were so divided intellectually.

Yet, you will find both serving in the Israeli army. You will see both on the streets of Israel doing business and otherwise behaving with absolute cordiality. Yes, not all religious Jews serve in the army, and yes you find some secular Israelis engaging in hostile behavior, and yes on the podium it gets very heated, but that is not the experience of every day and the vast majority of Jews in the Land of Israel.

This is the key point: both those Jews (the ultra-religious and the secular) have 100% total feelings of true peace when they visit each other's communities. Neither feels any sense that their lives could be in danger. It never crosses their minds. Neither gives a moments thought to the possibility either will attack the other. The conflicts they have are isolated and limited to a few people in general civil disputes.

Further, if need be, both would come to the rescue of the other. When they serve in the army, not only are they not concerned that either would do the other harm but they are both absolutely convinced the other would die on their behalf. When you get on a bus in Israel, the fact that either one is carrying a weapon is of absolutely no concern and the thought of any danger would never cross ANYONE'S mind.

There is no other place on the planet that people live in such peace.

Peace is in the hearts of the people.

"But peace does not rest in charters and covenants alone. It lies in the hearts and minds of all people. And if it is cast out there, then no act, no pact, no treaty, no organization can hope to preserve it without the support and the wholehearted commitment of all people. So let us not rest all our hopes on parchment and on paper; let us strive to build peace, a desire for peace, a willingness to work for peace, in the hearts and minds of all our people. I believe that we can. I believe the problems of human destiny are not beyond the reach of human beings."
President John F. Kennedy
Address to the General Assembly of the United Nations
New York - September 20th 1963

There isn't much that would make me happier than to see a signed peace treaty between all the parties. But for that to happen, all the sides, or at least the Jewish side has to learn to make peace with themselves. It's unfortunate, that the peace we do have amongst the Jews in the Land of Israel is due in very large extent to the aggression we face outside the Land of Israel.

We have peace amongst us because we have to have peace amongst us. Everything will change when we want to have peace amongst us.

EDITOR: "At least the Jewish side??? Do you really believe if Jews fully unified and learned to truly love peace, then that would cause the Arabs to change their hearts?"

That would be a miracle.

I believe in miracles.

But even if you don't, it's eminently observable how much we really have taught the Arabs to change their values. For even though their actions belie more devious motives, their rhetoric is far from the vitriolic vile of 1948 and earlier.

I don't want to sound naive, because for sure their talk is just that. But the fact that they have to couch their nefarious motives in the name of peace and human rights just shows how far they have come. For even though the leadership may be as depraved as their historic counterpart, they understand that the population they are talking to desires peace.

When an Arab leader accuses Israel of human rights violations, he is attesting to his people an ideal never previously valued in those lands. And even though his accusations of injustices, deceit and corruption, as well as countless other absurd duplicitous non-truths, are wholly baseless, nevertheless, without him even realizing it, these bastions of darkness are creating their own demise.

There is a famous parable that a small candle can illuminate a very dark hall. In Europe they managed to blow the candle out. But in Israel, The Almighty has given us a very thick wick. Our enemies blow, but they fan the flame brighter.

In summation, our verse says (ibid.):

"May God raise His countenance to you..."
We need God to help us understand life and its value,

"...and may He grant to you peace."
then we will seek peace.

I once had the misfortune to find myself in disagreement with a fellow Jew. We talked on the phone and I said to him, rather than blame and disagree, let's meet and try and find a way we can come to a common resolution. Unfortunately, he was not interested.

I asked him this, "Do you believe we can achieve peace between the Jews and the Arabs?"

He answered in the affirmative.

I asked again, "Do you believe the gap between the Jews and Arabs is greater than the difference between us?"

He answered in the negative.

Once again I said, "How can you expect the Jews and Arabs to make peace, if you and I cannot."

He didn't answer.

Similarly, if you know how to make peace in your home, with your families (your aunts, your uncles, even distant cousins), and with all of the Jewish people, you will know how to do it with your Arab neighbor. Once we learn peace with each other as Jews we can and will teach it to the rest of the world.


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Question 1: Which peace is more important, inner peace, peace in the home, or peace with enemies?

Question 2: Which kind of war is worse: between enemies or between friends and family?

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