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There are many definitions of peace floating around in our world. Peace is a high priority value in Jewish life and belief. However there is a wide continuum as to what peace really means. The range of what constitutes peace begins simply with an agreement not to make war or practice violence against another. The ultimate extreme of peace is what is envisioned by the prophet Yeshayahu as the abolishment of weaponry and the closing down of any form of military training.
Most of us currently would probably be satisfied with a peace that falls somewhere between these two definitions. This is an important issue that faces us – the definition of what we wish as peace. A temporary suspension of violence against Jews and the Jewish state, welcome as it always is, is certainly not the peace that we are searching for.
We would like to have a peace that is more long lasting and permanent and that somehow gives us a sense of confidence that we can sleep at night in security and protection. If however it is a temporary cessation of hostilities – again, welcome as such a situation always is no matter the circumstances – and only a precursor to a more deadly and aggressive war - only a temporary tactic and not a long term strategic shift, then this false peace is inherently aggressive and dangerous.
One need only review the armistice between the Allies and Germany after World War I to see the lethal effects of such a false peace. Twenty years later it unleashed the catastrophe of World War II upon humankind. The almost seventy year peace that has held in Europe after World War II is based on the realization of the German people that Germany was annihilated in World War II and that its future could now only lie in cooperation and not aggression with the rest of Europe.
As long as peace, even in its most minimalist definition, is not a goal in the Arab world regarding its relationship to Israel and world Jewry generally, all negotiations, proposals, schemes, land swaps, etc. are essentially meaningless. The minimum peace that would be acceptable to the vast majority of people residing in Israel is not a matter of borders, Natanyahu and Obama notwithstanding, but rather it is a mutual agreement to live and let live.
We have long ago despaired in our time of the immediate prospect of Yeshayahu’s peace being realized by natural here in the Middle East. But we are very wary of accepting temporary and uneasy quiet, interrupted by more than occasional violence against Jews, as being the desired goal of our policies and government. As long as our basic right to exist as a free and independent state in our homeland is denied it is difficult to see how a live and let live situation can now emerge.
And without that minimum definition of peace being realized it is foolhardy in the utmost to give up further real concessions on the ground in order to chase an illusory peace that has no solid definition. I know that this may not be welcome news to us who truly yearn for a peace that is at least live and let live. But we should realize that false illusions are very dangerous to our future survival. Better an uncertain but accurate reality than an imaginary rosy reading of a situation that is completely unreal and composed mainly of wishful thinking.
The Hebrew word for peace – shalom – is also in Jewish tradition known as one of the names of God, so to speak. This is because shalom indicates a degree of wholeness and completeness, a unity of which only God is capable of achieving. Peace, in this definition and context, is not merely the absence of war and violence, as important and vital as that is. It signifies a state of human existence where people can allow others to exist without threat and the necessity of conformity. It envisions a society where live and let live is the norm of human behavior and polity. It allows for a common goal of decency of behavior and service to God and man.
And, as the prophets have taught us, that “every nation may go forth in worship of their gods and Israel will go forth in the name of its God of Hosts.” We are a long way away from achieving this goal and state of peace currently. But traditional Jewish thought has taught us that people are not only judged by their actions – what they currently are – but also by what they wish to be – their ultimate goals. May He Who has established peace in His high heavens establish it here on earth for all of Israel as well.
Shabat shalom
Berel Wein

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