Struggle for Peace in the Midst of War

The following d’var Torah is based on a teaching of Rav Kook, z”l, as well as an insight on this teaching by Rabbi Normal Lamm, z”l.

The midrash states that “so great is peace, that even in a time of war, one needs peace.” What does this mean?

Rav Kook suggests an answer based on the tephilla we recite nightly where we ask God to spread over us a Sukkah of Peace. He then asks, what is the connection between a Sukkah and Peace?

His answer is to explore the halachot of building a sukkah. One might imagine the halacha is pretty obvious: simply build a structure with 4 walls and throw some schach on top of it. But that, of course, is not the halacha. We don’t need 4 walls after all; 3 are sufficient.

Even more than that. The three walls don’t need to be complete walls. Two and a little bit of a third is adequate.

And even more than that. According to Rav Lamm, “through a series of legal fictions, and utilizing such abstract ideas as מחיצתא אחית גוד ,לבוד, and עקומה דופן, the Halacha expanded the legal concept of sukkah by minimizing the requirements to the very core.” So much so, that it is possible to have something that barely looks like a Sukkah and yet nevertheless have a perfectly halachically acceptable Sukkah by which one may fulfill the mitzvah. “So wonderful, so vital, so significant is the
commandment of sukkah, that one must strive for whatever he can get out of it.”

Peace is fairly similar, suggests Rav Kook. The ideal vision of peace is illusory, something that unfortunately has often escaped our grasp. This reality reminds me of the famous line in the Book of Judges (5:31): “And the land was quiet for 40 years.”

40 years. That’s it. Throughout our entire history, a peace of 40 years is considered a great success.

Alas, back then, the Messianic vision vision of an enduring, universal peace was beyond our grasp.

And so too today.

Despite its absence, “so great is peace, that – like the sukkah – even a little piece of peace is a blessing.” Even when there is war – and peace seems to be the furthest thing from our minds – even when whole worlds have been destroyed and the nation as a whole is deep in mourning, the Midrash challenges us to struggle nevertheless to seek out small islands of peace, small glimmers of hope.

Such islands, though they pale in light of the pain of the attacks, provide some solace. They are the Sukkah of Shalom — an abode that halachically might almost appear as non-existent, and a value illusory and fleeting. But also, simultaneously, a gift from God, something we pray to have spread over us to provide us some degree of protection.

And what are some of these islands?

There are the heroic acts of so many, soldiers and citizens alike, men and women, young people seizing responsibility earlier than anyone could ever imagine and grandparents providing strength and courage long after they already completed their responsibilities of fighting. They risked their lives – often with full knowledge of a dreadful end – to save the lives of others. It is no easy thing to be a Tzadik; even harder to be a Tzadik with a heart and courage of a lion.

Then there is the home front. For every volunteer opportunity offered, ten-fold the number of people needed show up. Money, time, love, concern, prayers … and loads of sandwiches … flow like a might river throughout our land. Our summer of animosity has been transformed to our fall of unity.

There is also an island of peace in the world beyond our borders. Fellow Jews who have mobilized as it were their own children on the front line … because for many of them, they are. And there is also an island of peace in seeing how the civilized world has responded. The moral clarity that emanates from capitals around the world – even as moral idiocy plagues far too many – is a welcome peace we must cherish even as we mourn. Statements of support from within the Arab world, too few to form a river, but much greater than any trickle in the past, must also be applauded and appreciated.

Within all these islands of peace there are seeds of hope that may one day transform our mourning to celebration. Our tears of pain and mourning will be provide the first watering of these seeds, though in time, may we supplement them with tears of joy as well.