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Rabbi David’s Essay on Peace


December 2003Shalom

Contrary to popular opinion the Hebrew word “shalom” does not mean “peace,” at least not in the English sense of the word. It comes from a Hebrew root-word that means “wholeness.” And what is wholeness? In the Hebraic way of thinking wholeness is the joining together of opposites. That’s why we say “shalom” when we greet friends and when we are wish them farewell. In the most opposite of situations (coming and going) we use the same word, “shalom.” There is a hidden connection to all our comings and goings; they are wondrously linked together. When I come from somewhere I am going to some place else. When I realize this I feel “wholeness,” and that is the source of peace – the knowledge that all my opposing energies are somehow linked and part of a single whole. True peace must have wholeness as its foundation.

If I am a political left winger I am only flying with one wing. If I am a political right winger I am only flying with one wing, yet it takes two wings for an eagle to fly. It takes the integration of two opposing positions for there to be real “shalom.” The word dialogue comes from the Greek “dia + logos” meaning “across words” or “speech that goes back and forth.” It’s easy to have a left wing or a right wing “peace rally” with people we already agree with, but this is not the wholeness that is implied in the word “shalom.”

So what is the Hebraic view of shalom? Shalom brings the binary mind together, integrating the left brain modality of thinking (linear, logical, and rational) and the right brain modality (spiritual, intuitive, and creative). Shalom brings people together who disagree with each other in order to listen deeply to the “other” side. It is the people you do not agree with who have the greatest gift for you – the gift of the potential for wholeness.

The peace movement I belong to is not liberal or conservative, it is both liberal and conservative. It is not left wing or right wing; it flies with two wings. It is not religious vs. secular, rather it integrates the genius of both science and spirituality. The peace movement I belong to refuses to create an “other” out of the people with whom I may disagree on a particular issue. To the contrary, the peace movement I belong to is one of deep dialogue: tough dialogue, heart wrenching dialogue, gentle dialogue, but always dialogue – speech that goes back and forth – with each side constantly challenging, refining, and purifying the “other” until we recognize that the “other” is none “other” than a reflection of our own selves.

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach taught, “The Baal Shem teaches that when people are happy they clap their hands. This is because joy is spreading throughout the entire body. But do you know what it is that I’m really doing when I’m clapping? A person is bringing the left and right to love each other. Let me explain. The right usually tells the left ‘Listen, you know you’re a leftist. I don’t want to have anything to do with you.’ And the left (hand) says to the right, ‘Who needs you? You’re so boring. You’re always doing something good. Who needs you and your mitzvot. I have no strength for you.’ So the right doesn’t speak to the left and left doesn’t speak to the right. But when clapping hands, the left comes close to the right and says, ‘Hey, you’re precious after all.’ And the left says to the right: ‘I love you.’ So let’s sing and pray that the Holy One stirs the eyes of our people so that we recognize that we are only one, a holy and sanctified nation. Then we’ll all see there really is no right or left, but just the music; music and the dance.”

May G-d’s blessings flow upon all my brothers and sisters who are part of this unnamed and unnameable movement, wave, energy, and heavenly blessing that comes from G-d, the true Source of Shalom. In Jewish liturgy we celebrate G-d as the “former of light and Creator of darkness, Maker of peace, and Creator of the whole.” Created in that image, may this wholeness manifest in our lives and within the world. Amayn!