D’var Torah for May 21, 2021

This week we will be reading from parashat Naso. In it we find the ritual obligations concerning the assembly, disassembly, and porterage of the tabernacle as placed upon the various sub-clans of the Levites. It then goes on to deal with more questions of purification, before providing us with a fascinating, if not bizarre ritual regarding the Sotah, the alleged wayward wife. In Naso we are also introduced to the Birkat Kohanim, the priestly benediction, whose words we continue to use to this very day in moments of celebration as well as at the conclusion of our Shabbat evening services. 

The third of the three phrases in the Birkat Kohanim is as follows: “Yisah Adonai panav eilecha, v’yasem l’cha Shalom, My God bestow divine favor upon you and may God grant you peace.”1The Hebrew word for peace, shalom (שׁלום) is derived from a root denoting wholeness or completeness, and its frame of reference throughout Jewish literature is bound up with the notion of shelemut, perfection.

Its significance is thus not limited to the political domain — to the absence of war and enmity — or to the social — to the absence of quarrel and strife. It ranges over several spheres and can refer in different contexts to bounteous physical conditions, to a moral value, and, ultimately, to a cosmic principle and divine attribute.”2

As we learn from Psalms, “Seek peace and pursue it.”3 This means, even in times of war and suffering, the central obligation is to ultimately seek peace. This is perhaps part of the reason why so many of us were and are distressed by what has transpired over the past two weeks in Israel and in Gaza. Even with a ceasefire, which may or may not hold by the time this D’var Torah is sent out, it is so important to continue to pursue a long-term peace over a short-term quiet.

That being said, it will not be easy. For what has transpired is not merely between Israelis and Palestinians, there are more forces involved who have a vested interest in a continued conflict, including Iran. For now it does continue to look like an intractable situation. However, we are a people who have lived with hope through thousands of years. Hope not just for a nation of our own, but also for a world where we can all live safely and securely.

In the upcoming days and weeks, there will be a great deal of debate over who was right and who was wrong. But perhaps, rather than focus on the blame game, a different tact could be taken. Instead, perhaps it could be time to reflect on those innocents who died, those who suffered, and the countless traumas inflicted. We can use this as inspiration to help these two people pursue a more sustainable peace. It won’t be easy, and it may even be a fool’s errand, but our tradition demands nothing less. Even in times of war, we are commanded to pursue peace.

Or to borrow from John Lennon z”l, “they may say we are dreamers, but hopefully, we’re not the only ones.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Benjamin A. Sharff


1 Numbers 6:26

2 https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/shalom/

3 Psalm 34:15