Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel used to say: on three things does the world stand: On justice, on truth and on peace, as it is said: “execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates”(Zecharya 8:16) (Avot 1:18).
A Significant Peace
Last week we saw that Rashba”g presents din and emet as two of the three values that sustain the world. The third value is shalom. Though we value and strive for justice and truth, it is critical that we also sustain and foster shalom. A world that values only truth and justice is not sustainable (Derech Eretz Zuta, Perek Shalom).
The Torah places shalom at the climax of Birkat Kohanim (Bamidbar 6:26). Chazal followed suit with “all of our tefillot” (including Shemoneh Esrei, Bentching, and Kaddish). Shas Mishnayot also concludes (Uktzin 3:12) with shalom, which it celebrates as the vessel that encompasses and facilitates berachah.
Chazal teach us that shalom is equal in significance to the entire creation and the combined significance of all that exists (DE”Z); “without it, we have nothing (Sifra, Bechukotai 1).”
Shalom is important to both man and G-d. Obviously, it is important for man who needs peace in order to survive, thrive, and build society. Interestingly, Hashem values shalom as well. He chose it as one of His names and gave us the Torah only once we were at peace with one another (DE”Z). Chazal go even further in asserting that when we live in peace with each other (even if we are idol worshippers) Hashem “cannot” (!) cause us to be defeated in war (Bereishit Rabbah 38:6).
To restore peace between husband and wife, Hashem mandated that a sotah drink miracle water which clarifies her fidelity (Bamidbar 5). To show the importance of the goal, Hashem commanded that we erase His name as part of the process (Mesechet Chulin 144a). The same result could have been achieved without this erasure; by including it, Hashem taught us how much He values and we should value shalom.
Rebbe Yehudah learned from the sotah precedent that shalom is also something we should actively pursue (Nedarim 66b). Sefer Tehillim (34:15) encourages us to “seek” and “pursue” peace. This is significant because many mitzvot are situational. If we happen upon eggs under a mother bird, we send away the mother before taking the eggs. If we choose to build a house, we put a mezuzah on it. Shalom, though, is something we are meant to proactively seek out (Kallah Rabbati 3).
Earlier on in Avot’s first Perek (1:12), Hillel identifies Aharon HaKohen as the one we should emulate as a model of how to love and pursue peace. Aharon worked tirelessly to restore peace between spouses and between friends. He would help them appreciate each other and realize that the other appreciated them as well (Avot D’Rebbe Natan 12:3). Understandably, when Aharon died, the whole Jewish people deeply mourned his loss (Rashi Bamidbar 20:29).
The pursuit of peace is so important that we do so even at the expense of other significant values. In order to generate peace, Chazal (Mishnah Brachot 9:5) instituted our using the word shalom as a friendly greeting to one another despite it being Hashem’s holy name.
Though one of the world’s pillars, even emet may and should sometimes be sacrificed for the shalom sake. Chazal derived this from the fact that Hashem lied to Avraham (about Sarah’s reaction to the news of her upcoming pregnancy) and Yosef’s brothers lied to him (about Yaakov’s commandment that he forgive them) in order to sustain peace (Yevamot 65b).
This is also why Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel married “across party lines” despite their disagreements concerning issues of marital status. Though both groups firmly believed in the truth of their respective opinions, they avoided separating from one another. The Gemara (Yevamot 14b) explains that their actions fulfilled the pasuk (Zecharia 8:19) “ha’emet v’ha’shalom ahavu.” They loved emet, but they loved shalom as well. We should learn from them not to allow our commitment to truth to keep us from living in peace with one another as one people.
The Akeidat Yitzchak (Bamidbar, Shaar 74) and Rav Kook (Shalom B’shem) explain that shalom includes more than just the absence of hostility. The fullest (and truly meaningful) sense of the word includes people not just living in peace with one another, but also appreciating and working together with them. As opposed to the word “peace,” which derives from the Roman word “pax” and is related to the word “appeasement,” the Hebrew word “shalom,” like the related word “shalem,” means whole or complete. “Shalom” describes a situation where the whole Jewish people (and the whole world) live and work together as part of a complete, whole creation.
Rav Kook applies this to the goals described by Shimon HaTzadik at the beginning of Avot’s first perek. He explains that those involved in gemilut chassadim and those involved in avodah should appreciate one another’s endeavors. Additionally, both of them should respect and work with the theorists — those involved in the learning of Torah. In this way, Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel’s statement at the end of the perek relates back to Shimon HaTzadik’s earlier one.
Emet and shalom are both important. The mishnah concludes by quoting the pasuk from Zechariah (8:16) which teaches that both need to be part of our judicial system. This is why our system includes both din and pesharah (compromise). In fact, Rav Yehoshua Ben Karcha learns from the same pasuk in Zechariah that pesharah should always be the preferred option (Sanhedrin 6a). Though we value truth, we prefer reaching a decision that will foster peace.
May we learn from our mishnah to prioritize peace in our personal lives and national spheres!