Peace in the Land Requires Peace Between Fellow Jews

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by R. Eliezer Simcha Weisz

Lessons from the Chofetz Chaim and Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi on Unity Through Gentle Speech

תתי שלום בארץ ושכבתם ואין מחריד, והשבתי חיה רעה מן הארץ וחרב לא תעבור בארצכם (ויקרא כו, ו)

And I will grant peace in the land, and you shall lie down untroubled by anyone; I will give the land respite from vicious beasts, and no sword shall cross your land. (Vayikra 26:6)

ונתתי שלום בארץ – הרמב”ן מסביר – שיהיה שלום ביניכם ולא תלחמו זה בזה

“And I will grant peace in the land” – Ramban explains – that there will be peace among you and you will not fight one another. 

The condition for granting true peace in the land and not fearing enemies and the sword is, as described in the verse, achieving inner peace and unity among us as a people. Precisely as Ramban explains on the verse “And I will grant peace in the land” – it means that there will be peace among you and you will not fight one another.

Unfortunately, this is not the situation among us today. The division that exists between us today resembles that described in an undated letter written by the Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaCohen of Radin, about a hundred years ago, which seems as if it was written for these very days! The letter is lengthy, and we will quote part of it:

הדבר גורם לי יגון רב שריבוי המחלוקות בישראל, וזה המתחדש יום יום – צדדים וצדדים של צדדים – והכל בפרהסיא, על ידי הדפסת חוברות רבות לכל צד ושליחתן לכל פינה. צד אחד הופך ומרבה חתימות לצדו, ומבזה את הצד השני, וכן להיפך (וראיתי אחד הכותב שכל המרבה חתימות הוא אכן ראוי לשבח, ואני אומר שכל המרבה מרבה מחלוקת בישראל). בכלל, כל הגולה נהפכה כמו מדורה, שאין יום עובר בלי עיתוני התנגדות וחוברות מכל צד המגיעים אלי, שופכים לעג על הצד השני. ואני נוגה מאוד מאוד שגם בארצנו הקדושה, הצליח מלאכת השטן, וגם היא נפלה ברשת המריבה. ואינני יודע מי התיר להם את חטא לשון הרע ואת חטא המחלוקת, שהוא חטא גדול ונורא

מעל לכל זאת, חילול השם התרבה מאוד בגלל זה, ומי יודע מה יהיה הסוף, חס ושלום. כי הנה, ידוע מחכמינו, שהשוגג והמזיד שווים לגבי חילול השם, ו”מקיפין על חילול השם”. והנה, כולם יודעים מה שקרה בימי התנא רבי עקיבא, שהיו לו 24,000 תלמידים. אז היתה מגפה, ישמרנו הרחמן, וכל 24,000 התלמידים מתו, והעולם נשאר שומם מתורה, עד שרבי עקיבא בא לרבנן שבדרום ומצא שם חמישה, והעביר להם, ואלו הם: רבי מאיר, רבי יהודה, רבי יוסי, רבי שמעון ורבי אלעזר בן שמוע. ובגלל זה, כל ישראל שומרים על אבלות בכל שנה מפסח עד שבועות, כידוע. ומובא בגמרא שחטאם היה שלא נהגו כבוד זה בזה. ועכשיו נתבונן, שהרי זה היה רק דיבור פוגע, שהוא רק איסור שלילי, ואין חייבים מיתה בידי שמים על זה – אז מדוע מתו? אלא בגלל שבאמצעות זה נגרם חילול השם גדול בעולם, כשתלמידי חכמים רבים זה עם זה ומבזים את התורה ומצוותיה לעיני כולם. ועל זה אני אומר, רבותי ומורי, למה שלא נפחד מארזי הלבנון, קדושי עליון, שבוודאי היה לכל אחד תירוץ עבור עצמו שהוא אינו אשם, והאשמה העיקרית היא על חברו ולא עליו, ואף על פי כן אנו רואים שתורתם וקדושתם לא הגנו עליהם, ומידת הדין הקשה שלטה עליהם כולם

ולכן, אחיי ורעיי, חוסו על עצמכם ועל קהילת ישראל. כל אחד במקומו ישתדל לכבות את אש המחלוקת, כדי שלא יחולל שמו הגדול עוד יותר, וישתדל להרבות שלום במקומו. ובזכות זה, נזכה לשמוע את קול המבשר שלום בעולם. הצעיר שבכהונה, הכותב בלב נשבר. (מכתב בגנות המחלוקת ומעלת השלום החפץ חיים מודפס בזכור למרים ‘ע’ ‘110  הוצאות המאור ירושלים תשי”ח)

“This causes me great sorrow, the many disputes among the Jews, and this new thing happening daily – factions and sub-factions – and all in public, through the printing of many pamphlets for each side and sending them to every corner. One side compiles and collects signatures for its side while denigrating the other side, and vice versa (and I have seen someone write that whoever gathers more signatures is indeed praiseworthy, but I say that whoever gathers more increases strife among Israel). In general, the entire diaspora has become like a bonfire, with not a day passing without opposition newspapers and pamphlets from every side reaching me, pouring scorn on the other side. And I am greatly, greatly saddened that even in our Holy Land, the work of the Satan has succeeded, and it too has fallen into the net of strife. And I do not know who permitted them the sin of evil speech and the sin of strife, which is a great and terrible sin.

“Above all, the desecration of the Name has greatly increased because of this, and who knows what the end will be, God forbid. For behold, it is known from our Sages that the one who acts unintentionally and the one who acts intentionally are equal regarding the desecration of the Name, and ‘they encircle (i.e., punish) regarding the desecration of the Name.’ And behold, everyone knows what happened in the days of the Tanna Rabbi Akiva, who had 24,000 students. Then there was a plague, may the Merciful One protect us, and all 24,000 students died, and the world remained desolate of Torah, until Rabbi Akiva came to the Rabbis of the South and found five there, and he passed [the Torah] on to them, and these are: Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Judah, Rabbi Yosi, Rabbi Shimon, and Rabbi Elazar ben Shammua. And because of this, all Israel observes mourning every year from Passover until Shavuot, as is known. And it is brought in the Gemara that their sin was that they did not conduct themselves with respect for one another. And now let us consider, for this was only offensive speech, which is only a negative prohibition, and one is not liable to death by Heaven for this – so why did they die? Rather, because through this, a great desecration of the Name (Chilul Hashem) was caused in the world, when many Torah scholars quarreled with one another and denigrated the Torah and its commandments before everyone’s eyes. And on this, I say, my masters and teachers, why should we not fear the cedars of Lebanon, the holy ones of the Most High, who certainly each had an excuse for himself that he was not guilty, and the main blame was on his friend and not on him, and nevertheless, we see that their Torah and holiness did not protect them, and the harsh attribute of judgment ruled over them all.

“And therefore, my brothers and friends, have pity on yourselves and on the community of Israel. Each one in his place should strive to extinguish the fire of strife, so that His great Name will not be further desecrated, and he should strive to increase peace in his place. And by virtue of this, we will merit to hear the voice of the herald of peace in the world. The youngest among the priesthood, writing with a broken heart.” (Letter against dispute and in praise of peace by the Chofetz Chaim, printed in Zachor LeMiriam, p. 110, Maaor Publications, Jerusalem 5718)

The Chofetz Chaim points out that the desecration of the Name (Chilul Hashem) from the fire of strife caused the death of Rabbi Akiva’s students! Desecration of the Name (Chilul Hashem) was caused by the division and dissension between them, and as Ramban writes further: If there is no peace among us, there will be no peace with our enemies, and all the more so if our behavior is considered a desecration of the Name. Any group of Jews whose actions affect other groups of Jews who do not observe Torah and commandments must be careful to prevent their actions from causing the desecration of the Name (Chilul Hashem).

The fire of strife among us, which is the cause of Chilul Hashem, is one of the factors delaying the Redemption. The late leader of the Eidah Charedis community in Yerushalayim, Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim, once quoted his teacher, Rabbi Yosef Zvi Dushinsky, Chief Rabbi (Ga’avad) of the Eidah HaChareidis community during the period of the violent demonstrations, as saying that the final Redemption requires some sort of spiritual awakening (though not necessarily full observance of the commandments) on the part of all Jews. When we act in a way that is less conducive to this awakening, such as through violence, we are delaying the Redemption.

We must understand that the Redemption will come through our unity! Otherwise, none of us will be redeemed; there is no such thing as redemption for an individual with a particular opinion. We share a common fate as a people. We must not ignore the lack of spiritual awakening of most Jews in the world with indifference and deny responsibility for their attitude towards the Torah; to give up hope for our brothers is to give up hope for the coming of the Messiah. Precisely as Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe wrote: “We must change our attitude towards one another, change the language between us, learn to communicate in a gentle tongue with one another even when we disagree with them.”

And the real question is how to do this? How can we achieve these goals suggested by Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe? The Midrash tells us about Rabbi Yehudah the Nasi’s unique way of teaching his students:

רבי [יהודה הנשיא] עשה סעודה לתלמידיו. הביא לפניהם לשונות רכות ולשונות קשות. התחילו בוררים את הרכות ומניחים את הקשות. אמר להם: “בני, אתם יודעים מה אתם עושים? כשם שאתם בוררים את הרכות ומניחים את הקשות, כך תהא לשונכם רכה, זה לזה.” (ויקרא רבה, פרשת בהר לג, א)

“Rebbi [Yehudah the Nasi] made a feast for his students. He brought before them soft tongues and tough tongues. They began picking out the soft ones and leaving the tough ones. He said to them: ‘My sons, do you know what you are doing? Just as you are picking out the soft ones and leaving the tough ones, so should your tongue be soft, one to another.'” (Vayikra Rabbah, Parshah Behar 33:1)

 Rebbi Yehudah the Nasi (Rebbi), the redactor of the Mishnah, wanted to teach his students how to speak in a soft tongue and not a harsh one, and he announced to all the students that he was preparing a great joyous feast for them. They all came. The feast was lavish. During it, they were served cow tongues. The students did not know that before the feast, the Rabbi had given secret instructions to prepare two kinds – soft tongues and tough tongues. The feast began, and Rebbi Yehudah the Nasi watched as the tongues were served, and the students immediately noticed that some were soft and some were tough. They picked out the soft tongues for themselves, and left the tough ones and did not eat them.

Rebbi waited for this moment and said: “Notice what you just did – you pushed the tough tongues aside and chose the soft tongues! Just as you refused anything but the soft tongues, and pushed the tough ones aside, so should your tongue be soft, one to another!” Bless one another, not harshly – speak welcoming words, close and pleasant speech, loving speech. And push aside bitter, prickly, and hateful speech.

Why did Rebbi not choose to deliver a musar (ethical) lesson to them on the same subject? Why did Rebbi not gather his students and give them a moral lecture? Surely such a lecture to his students would have made an impression on them? Perhaps Rebbi knew that if he lectured before his students, each one would listen and think Rebbi was not addressing him but speaking about someone else: “Me?! I never speak harshly or with a sharp tongue!” “Rebbi does not mean me! He must certainly mean someone else”.

A moral lecture would not have achieved Rebbi Yehudah HaNasi’s goal. Rebbi wanted to demonstrate in practice how all his students chose the soft tongue for themselves precisely, so that he could emphasize: Be as careful in choosing your words as in choosing that soft tongue of meat. 

Rebbi gave them a practical lesson with a sense of taste, a taste they could never forget.

We must not allow ourselves to forget that those on the other side, the side we disagree with, are also our brothers of the House of Israel, even if we do not and cannot agree with their way of life. We must draw them close, for “a gentle response turns away rage.” We will only succeed in drawing them close with a gentle response and not harsh speech, words, demonstrations, or actions that they will see as a desecration of the Name (Chilul Hashem). We must pray and do what is in our power to achieve the blessing of “And I will grant peace (among you) in the land, and you shall lie down untroubled.” ונתתי שלום בארץ ושכבתם ואין מחריד

About Eliezer Simcha Weisz

Rabbi Eliezer Simcha Weisz is a member of The Chief Rabbinate Council of Israel

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