January 2020, Israel - New York - Mexico
Can peace be achieved?
When we hear this question we usually think about the elusive dream of peace between nations; can peace be achieved between Israel and the Arab states? North and South Korea? Ireland and England? Etc
but I have a deeper question. Based on my human experiences, I ask, can we achieve peace between ourselves, or even within ourselves? and what qualities do we need in order to achieve peace?
I recall a rabbi commenting about the peace talks involving the late Henry Kissinger and the late Prime Minister Golda Meir. The rabbi said, how can two people who did not achieve peace in their own lives, in their own households, achieve peace between nations. He who makes peace in the heavens, He shall make peace among us.
There is great truth in this brief statement. The rabbis teach that we must first find peace in ourselves, Shalom, we must become complete. When we have Shalom, wholeness, we can drop petty anger and jealousy. We can learn to forgive, first ourselves and then others. When we recognize without anger, our own shortcomings, we realize that we must forgive ourselves. Then we realize we need to forgive others as well, for they too are imperfect human beings.
Rabbi Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik writes in his "Lonely Man of Faith" how we must come to recognize man as he is, and understand that not all our friends have been blessed with the most lofty qualities. We must look at our fellow man with empathy and understanding and forgiveness. Through this we can achieve peace. Achieving peace with our friends brings peace into our own lives. Achieving peace within our own lives brings peace with those around us. We all have personal torment, we all suffer frustration. If we forgive ourselves we must also forgive others.
Elimelech Weisblum of Lizhensk, (1717-1786, Poland) known as the Noam Elimeilich, or the Pleasantness of Elmelech, wrote about this; all the more so, we must help each other out, strengthen each other, not see the faults , God forbid, of our fellow man.
These were both highly evolved men who came to an understanding of how to achieve peace. They restricted themselves to the limited goal of peace between friends, associates, comrades. And yet lesser men try to achieve peace between nations, and beauty queen contestants try to achieve world peace. Can we see a pattern?
The great Rabbi Yisrael Meir of Radun, Poland said that his goal was more limited; to find peace in himself and those around him. His words, writings, and example, are still studied in most Jewish households to this very day. His motto was...those who desire life, who want to see good in this life; watch your tongue from speaking evil or slander. guard your lips from speaking untruths. (Psalms).
And yet what do I see? I see that people cannot achieve peace even in limited circles. I see that people cannot forgive the faults of others. I see that people cannot bury the hatchet and find peace with each other. Even this limited goal is too much.
We all desire peace, it is to our common benefit. We have so much to gain. Often all it takes is to understand that someone else felt frustrated, or short changed, or disrespected. Often all it takes is a kind word, or a smile, or a cup of coffee. I have seen this numerous times in my own life. Relationships that started very poorly turned out quite well. I am not claiming to be an expert peace maker by any means, just sharing the insights I have gained over many years of conflict resolution.
Can peace be achieved with your former friends and associates?
First you need to ask, do you need, want, these people back in your life? Is there anything to be gained? (family relationship, business associates)
Is whatever caused the hurt so terrible that forgiveness is out of the question?
What effort would it take to restore peace?
I think in most cases it is well within our means.
We look at a world where one nation can rise against another without even being able to name their capital or some basic historic facts. Hatred does not require knowledge. It is said that Aharon (Aaron) the High Priest of Israel, the Cohen, loved peace and pursued peace. It starts with caring, a word of compassion, a moment to think, the desire for open communication. It is well within our human abilities.
Moshe visiting Auschwitz where many of his relatives perished. Can man ever find peace?
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