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Behar-Bechukotai: The Ultimate Peace Plan

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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 good.

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 fear.’”

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, fast-food solutions.

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 land.

As we prepare to receive the Torah at Sinai, let us remember this:

“[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. Proverbs 3:16)

After all we have been through, perhaps the Torah’s peace plan is the best plan after all.

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