by Simon Jacobson
May 2, 2002
Oh, how things have changed. With a world consumed
by fear and anxiety, today’s deepest longings are for security
and peace, not money and comforts.
What would you give to find out the secret to
a life free of fear and uncertainty? How much would you pay
for this knowledge?
The Torah, given at Sinai 3314 years ago, tells
us the secret in this week’s Torah portion – and it will cost
you nothing to find it out! Well, not exactly nothing; the price
will be psychological and emotional, not financial (read the
fine print below).
Instead of writing my own thoughts on our presenting
challenges, allow me to cite literal verses from this week’s
Torah portion that speak for themselves.
“If you follow My laws and keep my mitzvot…
you will live securely in the land. I will grant peace in the
land so that you will sleep without fear. I will rid the land
of dangerous animals, and the sword will not pass through your
land. You will chase away your enemies, and they will fall before
your sword. Five of you will be able to chase away a hundred,
and a hundred of you will defeat ten thousand.
“But if you do not listen to Me and do not
keep all these mitzvoth… I will bring upon you feelings of anxiety
along with depression and agitation, destroying your outlook
and making life hopeless.” (Leviticus 26:3-8;14-16)
35 years ago, as a young child, I heard these
verses cited by the Rebbe, my Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
The Rebbe was addressing a Lag B’Omer children’s parade which
I attended in Brooklyn, New York. It was a week before the outbreak
of the Six Day War in 1967. President Nasser of Egypt was moving
100,000 troops and over 1000 tanks into the Sinai Desert. He
closed off the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, officially
declaring war against Israel. Jordan and Syria were amassing
troops as well on Israel’s other borders. Things did not look
Addressing the looming crisis I remember the Rebbe’s
powerful, determined voice booming over Eastern Parkway – and
across the globe – that Sunday morning. “As our brothers and
sisters in Israel are now in need of salvation – and G-d will
surely protect them now more than ever – we have the power to
help them by adding in our study of Torah, performance of mitzvoth
and selfless love for each other. Our commitment to G-d by keeping
His Torah and mitzvot guarantees us the blessings of peace and
security in Israel -- ‘you will live securely in the land. I
will grant peace in the land so that you will sleep without
Much has happened in the last 35 years. But these
words resonate today more than ever.
We are uncomfortable and unaccustomed (to say
the least) with finding spiritual solutions to presumably political
problems. We have become desensitized to recognizing the deep
and historical forces at work in shaping our lives today. Our
material comforts and prosperity, our high standard of living,
has sheltered us from the realities of life and death, good
and evil. As we have become detached from our organic connection
to the world around us and we have adapted to a life of the
here and now, we tend to address our problems with simple, linear,
September 11th has opened many of our
eyes. Not simply the tragic events of that day, but the subsequent
global upheaval unleashed – or exposed – in the wake of 9/11
has awakened us to realities that have become obscured over
the years. Very abruptly, we find ourselves grappling with themes
we have long sensed but never articulated.
But our eyes are still not completely open. Having
developed new tools to adapt to our new secular world, we have
become accustomed to systems that function seemingly well without
G-d, faith and higher purpose. It therefore remains quite difficult
to accept the role of G-d and spirituality in today’s problems.
Yet today’s global events – so deeply rooted in
inexplicable age old religious passions – rudely remind us of
the message so clearly articulated in this week’s Torah portion:
As long as we do not make our peace with G-d we will not be
at peace with ourselves and with each other. Are there more
apt words to describe our feelings today than those of the Bible:
“feelings of anxiety along with depression and agitation,
destroying your outlook and making life hopeless”?!
The Shaloh writes that ‘reward and punishment’
in the Torah is actually a system of ‘cause and effect.’ When
we hearken to G-d, we connect to our inner purpose, and as a
result we will live in peace and security. When we lose sight
of our Divine calling, the natural effect is one that leads
us to anxiety and hopelessness.
No doubt that the way of peace includes self-defense
and a position of strength: when attacked we need to defend
ourselves and go to war to protect our security and freedom.
Yet, while we fight our physical battles we must simultaneously
wage our spiritual battles to reconnect with G-d and His Torah
and laws – and thereby bring about peace and security to our
As we prepare to receive the Torah at Sinai, let
us remember that the “entire Torah was given to bring peace
to the world, as it says ‘its ways are pleasant ways and all
its paths are peace’” (Rambam, conclusion of laws of Chanukah.
After all we have been through, perhaps the Torah’s
peace plan is the best plan after all.