Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


Shalom, Peace, Frieden, "Pacem in Terris, et ad hominem, bonis volens."


  “Peace on earth and good will to men”.  So say our Christian brethren on their most important Holy Day and we say to that “Omane”, Amen, So be it.

  It is no surprise to anyone that the Judeo-Christian tradition views peace as its most important goal and that we and others have prayed for peace for thousands of years. The truth is that we have accomplished a great deal over the years that civilized man has been on this earth. Only one thing has always eluded us. Keeping the peace.

   While the horrible events of September 11 cannot be erased from our minds it is certain that those horrors will one day be included in history books alongside such other horrors as the HOLOCAUST, innumerable wars, the terror of the French revolution, the brutality meted out the South American Indians, the endless slaughter in China and all over Asia etc., etc. etc. ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

   In view of our failure to succeed in this most vital aspect of human existence we once more turn to our Torah and our sages and ask what we can learn from that great source of Jewish and human experience.

   We begin with Shemoth (Exodus) 20:13. “You shall not murder”. Those who deliberately murdered 6,000 innocent people in this country, those who deliberately murdered hundreds of Israelis and even their own people live in a world utterly devoid of that most basic understanding of human needs and experience. Like their Nazi spiritual fathers, McVeigh, Arafat, Gacey, Bin Ladin, Huberty and numerous others never learned the rudiments of human kindness and sympathy. They murder because they like to kill.

   Now look at the Jewish hope for this world. What phrase is better known, what sentence more often repeated by all the Judeo-Christian world than the words of the prophet Yishayahoo (Isaiah 2:4). “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” Many of us may despair and say that that will never happen. But Jews never despair. We know that the end of war will happen and that universal peace will come. Only that knowledge makes it possible for us to keep trying, keep teaching, keep repeating with Meechah (Micah 4:4), “They shall sit, each one under his vine and his fig tree and no one shall make them afraid.”

   Now look again at the Talmud which teaches (Mishnah Snahedrin 4:5), “One person alone was brought forth at the time of creation in order to teach us that one who destroys a single human life is regarded as the destroyer of the whole world, while one who preserves a single human life is regarded as the preserver of the whole world.”

   For us Jews there is no doubt our mission in this world is to “be a light unto the nations” and teach them peace.

   We Jews have always contended that peace is not only the absence of war. Peace, in the Jewish tradition, is the effort we have always made to promote human brotherhood, to live in harmony with those who differ from us, to show love and kindness to everyone and to insist on social justice. It is our view that this definition of peace began in Israel and from there is diffused to all the world as the Torah says: Kee Mitzion Taytsay Torah, U’dvar Hashem Mee Yerusholayim” - “For Out of Zion shall come forth the Law and the word of G-d from Jerusalem.”

  Yerusholayim is of course the City of Peace. That is its meaning. Yet, as we read these lines we cannot but compare these lofty doctrines with the reality of suicide bombers who murder innocent children in Jerusalem. We cannot overlook the daily terror attacks upon our brethren in Judea and Samaria and Gaza who are subjected to endless murder driven by hate and an utter failure to know the words of Berayshiyt (Genesis 9:5-6) "…..for in the image of G-d made he man.” That includes Arafat, Bin Ladin and the terrorists who hide their faces behind bandanas as they run through the streets of Gaza screaming “kill the Jews.”

   We Jews are forbidden to hate even them. Look at Devoriym (Deuteronomy 23:8). Here we find this sentence: “You shall not abhor an Edomite (Arab), for he is your brother; you shall not abhor an Egyptian for you were a stranger in his land.”

   If we take all that seriously does this then mean that we must sit still and let ourselves be murdered at will? Surely that is not the meaning of the Jewish hope for peace. In a world which still includes millions of those who have no idea of ethics or moral principles we have no choice but to defend our lives and the Jewish civilization which has taught those ethics to half the world.

   It is an aberration and a perversion of our teachings to pretend that Jews must always walk into the gas ovens or suicide bombs with bowed heads while mumbling ancient prayers. Some of our so-called “liberals” choose to interpret our tradition to mean that any aggression against us is justifiable, that we may never fight back lest we are guilty of being “war mongers” and that the victims are at fault.

   We see this once more in the so-called “peace rallies” staged by those who demand that the United States, our country, sit idle while the haters and the psychotic killers plot more mayhem against us. Surely, that is not our attitude.

   What we must do now is what the people of Israel have known for a century of terror directed against them. We must remember our teachings but we must also defend ourselves.

   There is not one instance, not one, in which a Jew or any Jews have attacked the Arab people surrounding Israel. Before the independence of Israel became reality in 1948 Jewish pioneers were endlessly assaulted and  murdered by the local Arab population. Remember once more the heroic defense of Tel Chai by Joseph Trumpeldor in 1929.

    In 1947 the Jews of Israel accepted the partition of the Holy Land despite the fact that the land had already been divided by the British occupiers and all the east bank of the Jordan given to the Arabs. Yet, our enemies were not satisfied and attacked the 600,000 Jews then living there in the hope of killing all.  They failed.   They failed again in 1956, in 1967, in 1973 and on and on and on.

  We know that only a little more than one year ago, the government of Prime Minister Ehud Barak acceded to all the demands of Arafat and his terrorists. Barak was willing to give him the whole “west bank”, the Jordan river valley, the old city of Yerusholayim and more. Yet, Arafat refused. He could have had everything he said he wanted all these years.  Yet, he refused.  Had he accepted he would have had to make peace with Israel and that he could not bring himself to do.  For Arafat and his supporters war and killing, hatred and destruction are all important life goals.  Peace is anathema to them.  Murder is their nirvana.

   In that spirit the murderers attacked the World Trade Center believing they would enter “Paradise” for doing so. We Jews and our Christian brethren look in horror at this nightmare knowing all the while that even now those who are so benighted as to do these deeds and those who support them will yet one day say with us: “Yehee Shlomo Rabo --- may there be abundant peace from heaven” and “ Ossee Shalom bimromaov who yaasee shalom, alaynoo v’al kol Yisrael” - “He who brings peace to His universe will bring peace to us and to all Israel (and all mankind) Bimhayro v’yomaynoo.  Now and in our day.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of Stigma:  How We Treat Outsiders (Prometheus Books, 2001) and over 60 other publications.

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