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Pinchas: War and Peace: Is There a Peaceful Approach to War?

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How should we react when we witness a crime – with aggression or with passivity? Do we confront or ignore? If you see a wrong being done – one person hurting another; your child acting inappropriately – how do you balance strong, disciplinary action without becoming overzealous? This question has plagued peaceful people through the ages.

How should a man of peace deal with injustice? The answer to these questions can be found in this week’s controversial Torah portion, where God grants a zealot and a killer a “covenant of… peace.” In its inimitable way the Torah provokes us into revisiting peace and asking: What exactly is peace? Most of us identify zealotry as a radical and extreme force, equated with terrorism, which has no redeeming quality. But is that how the Torah sees it? Many wonder: Will there ever be peace for the Jewish people living in their homeland? But maybe we should be asking.

What is peace? Does peace mean always laying down our arms and giving up what we hold dear? If so, how is peace different from passivity or weakness? And if not, can there be peace in the absence of negotiations or compromises? For answers, we will mine the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov on this issue, which contain extremely relevant and powerful lessons about peace, fundamentalism and extremism – and which explain what we can do to address these explosive issues.

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