Parashat Bo 5780
by Meir Sendor
Rabbi Shaul Yedidya Eleazar Taub (1886-1947), the scholarly and musically talented Modzitzer Rebbe, ztz”l, lived through two world wars, narrowly escaped Poland as the Nazis were closing in, made his way via Japan to the U.S., settled in Brooklyn and re-established a vibrant Hassidic community. He passed away on the day the UN voted to establish the State of Israel. Based on his life experience, he commented on this verse from Psalms:
תהלים פרק קכ פסוק ז
אני שלום וכי אדבר המה למלחמה:
I am peace, but when I speak they are for war (Ps. 120:7).
Why does it say “when I speak?” It would be enough to say “I am peace but they are for war.” Rather, true peace is when there is no place or need to explain the inclination and will for peace, for it is understood from itself, so there is no need to speak about it at all. But when people need to deal with peace and work on it, when people gather together conferences for peace, and establish leagues for peace, and peace is on everyone’s lips – it’s a sign that these people are aiming and planning for war, and peace is in danger. This is “I am peace,” the feeling of peace is within me, in my essence. But “when I speak,” when the air is filled with words about peace, it’s a sign that “they are for war.”
The long-awaited “Deal of the Century,” crafted by the Trump administration and publicized this week in an official document titled “Peace to Prosperity: a Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People,” has stirred the expected controversy. The Palestinians have rejected it outright. While politicians and commentators debate territory percentages and boundaries and land swaps, the heart of the deal is expressed in section eighteen of the text under the heading “Education and Culture of Peace”:
As President Trump as said, “peace can never take root in an environment where violence is tolerated, funded and even rewarded.” Therefore it is very important that education focuses on peace to ensure that future generations are committed to peace… Promoting a culture of peace will be an important element of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Agreement, with the goal of creating an environment that embraces the values of coexistence and mutual respect throughout the region. The creation of a culture of peace should include an end to incitement, including in government-controlled media, as well as an end to the glorification of violence, terrorism and martyrdom. It should also prohibit hostile propaganda, as well as textbooks, curriculum and related materials contrary to the goal of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Agreement, including the denial of one another’s right to exist.
Though couched in neutral terms as if addressing both parties, it’s clear that this section is chastising the Palestinian leadership for promoting a culture of violence over the course of decades, inciting violence, indoctrinating school-children for violence and glorifying violence, terrorism, murder and homicidal suicide. If the Deal does nothing else, it shines a public spotlight on the malign heart of the Palestinian leadership and their culture of brutality that the Europeans and leftists of the U.S. intentionally overlook and tacitly excuse or condone.
This week’s parashah also features a deal, the Deal of the Ages, between God and Israel, and it focuses on teaching our children the meaning of the deal:
שמות פרק יג פסוק ח פסוק ט פסוק יא
והגדת לבנך ביום ההוא לאמר בעבור זה עשה יקוק לי בצאתי ממצרים: והיה לך לאות על ידך ולזכרון בין עיניך למען תהיה תורת יקוק בפיך כי ביד חזקה הוצאך יקוק ממצרים: והיה כי יבאך יקוק אל ארץ הכנעני כאשר נשבע לך ולאבתיך ונתנה לך:
You shall tell your child on that day saying ‘for the sake of this God acted for me in bringing me out of Egypt.’ And it shall be for you a sign upon your arm and a remembrance between your eyes, in order that the Torah of HaShem be in your mouth, for with a strong hand Hashem brought you out of Egypt… And it will be when Hashem brings you to the Land of Canaan as He swore to you and to your forefathers and gives it to you…
Rashi explains that “for the sake of this” means we were brought out of Egypt and into the Land of Israel for the sake of enacting God’s commandments, to fulfill the Torah of HaShem in our actions, words and thoughts. That’s the deal between God and Israel, the deal for all time. Emmanuel Levinas summarizes the meaning of living the vision of Torah in the Land of Israel:
“We are going into this land to ascend to heaven.” We will not possess the land as it is usually possessed; we will found a just community in this land… To accept the Torah is to accept the norms of a universal justice. The first teaching of Judaism is the following: a moral teaching exists and certain things are more just than others. A society in which man is not exploited, a society in which men are equal… the very contestation of moral relativism. What we call the Torah provides norms for human justice. And it is in the name of this universal justice and not in the name of some national justice or other that the Israelites lay claim to the land of Israel (Nine Talmudic Readings, p. 66).
The justice envisioned in the Torah is a justice of mutual compassion and respect. In such a culture, in which you “love your neighbor as yourself,” peace is a given: people who respect each other and have compassion and love for each other are already peaceful by nature, not by negotiation. This is the deal God has made with the Israelite people – to cultivate such a society, especially in the Land of Israel, and these are the values that Am Yisrael has been teaching, generation after generation, for millennia.
As things stand, the vision of “Peace to Prosperity” is idealistic. If both parties had good will it could actually be realistic. But right now the Palestinian leadership and their allies are far from any such vision. With people of good will and a leadership of good will we would have already been thriving and flourishing together in prosperity for decades. If there is any hope for peace, it will probably come from ordinary Palestinians of good will who don’t need to negotiate about peace because they are already peaceful. We know a few such people and I’m confident there are many more. Rabbi Simcha Bunam of Pruszyscha says: “you cannot find peace in the world until you find peace in yourself.” That’s the real deal.