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Peace and Love
by Rabbi Shimon Finkelman

Our Sages teach that "there is no vessel that can contain blessing like [the vessel] of peace." On the other hand, there is nothing as destructive as dispute and strife. The Chofetz Chaim writes: "For Jews to feud with each other is a dreadful sin that is often accompanied by other sins: lashon hara (slander), sinas chinam (senseless hatred), ona'as devarim (causing hurt through words), embarrassing someone, seeking revenge, bearing a grudge... At times, strife leads to desecration of God's Name, a very severe sin."

A great rabbi once discussed the bad inclination which some people seem to have for taking sides in an argument. What is it, this rabbi wondered, that pulls these people into the quicksand of dispute, which can destroy friendships, family peace and sometimes, whole communities?

To answer this question, he drew an analogy to America's preoccupation with professional sports. What is it that drives millions of people to spend countless hours listening to or viewing "their team" perform? What do they stand to gain from seeing their team win? If their favorites go on to win the world championship, will they show appreciation to their loyal fans and share their championship paycheck with them?

The source of "sports-mania," explained this rabbi, is an urge to emerge triumphant from competition. If Mr. Jones roots for the Carolina Southerns and the Southerns win, then in Mr. Jones' mind, he has won.

This very same urge is what drives people to take sides in disputes and engage in mudslinging, protesting and all the other shameful activities that dispute brings with it. When a person takes a side in a feud and his side prevails, then he sees himself as a winner.

But as we have explained, this is contrary to a very basic quality which every Jew should possess: self-control. We should seek to conquer the real enemy ? our own inclinations ? and bend over backwards to make peace even when we know that the other side is at fault.

Eight days before he passed away, Rabbi Moshe Sherer shared his very last Torah thought on this earth with a young man who entered his hospital room to wish him "Good Shabbos":

As we all know, three times a day, every Jew takes three steps back at the conclusion of Shemoneh Esrei and says, "Oseh Shalom (May He who makes peace)..." We bow to the left, to the right and then forward as we say these words. Why must we step back and bow?

This, explained Rabbi Sherer, is to teach us that there is really only one way for a person to truly achieve peace among people. He must "step back," meaning, he must drop his personal interests and not cling stubbornly to his personal viewpoint. Instead, he must concern himself with what is truly good for everyone and he must strive to understand the viewpoint of his adversary.

But merely stepping back is not sufficient. After he has convinced himself to think openly and objectively, he must take action for the sake of peace. He must turn to the left, to the right and to the center, each time "bending," that is, compromising a little.

Humble yourself and compromise, for only then can you achieve true peace.

A Lesson in Peace Between People

On a visit to Vilna, the Chofetz Chaim arrived at an inn to spend the night. As he entered the dining room, he noticed a boorish-looking fellow being served a large portion of meat and a drink. The Chofetz Chaim looked on in dismay as the man devoured the meat in a few bites, gulped down his drink, and then addressed the waiter in an unbecoming way as he asked for more food.

The Chofetz Chaim rose from his seat and was about to make his way to the fellow's table, when the innkeeper stopped him. "Rabbi," said the man, "this boor is a lost Jewish soul, a Cantonist. He was taken from his home by force at age seven and worked on a Siberian farm until age 18. Then he spent 25 years in the Czar's army. Is it any wonder that he is nothing but an ignorant, uncivilized boor to whom life means nothing but eating and drinking? Please, do not attempt to correct his behavior. I fear that he may become angry and could even respond by striking you."

"So that is his story!" exclaimed the Chofetz Chaim. "Do not worry, I am hopeful that I will speak to him in a way that will not upset him."

The Chofetz Chaim approached the man, extended his hand in greeting and said, "Is what I hear true, that you were snatched from your home at age seven, grew up among gentiles and never had the opportunity to study a word of Torah? You have suffered Gehinnom on this world! I am sure that the wicked people who persecuted you, forced you to eat non-kosher foods and transgress other mitzvot as well. Yet you remained a Jew and did not let the Czar achieve his goal of convincing you to convert. Praiseworthy are you! For 30 years, you bore suffering at the hands of your oppressors, and here you are, a Jew who clings to his faith in the Almighty. What a source of merit you have earned for yourself!"

The Chofetz Chaim's sincere words, spoken from a mouth that was holy and pure, touched the Cantonist to the depths of his soul. Tears flowed from his eyes and he embraced the Chofetz Chaim. The Chofetz Chaim then spoke to the man about returning to the path of Torah, the path which his parents had been prevented from teaching him. Under the Chofetz Chaim's guidance, he became a complete returnee to Judaism.

The Totality of Torah

Ksav Sofer writes that there are many mitzvot which an individual cannot fulfill personally. For example, some mitzvot apply only to men, some only to women, some only to Kohanim, and some only to those living in Israel. How, then, can a person fulfill all of Torah?

By fulfilling the mitzvah of love for others, one unites himself with his fellow Jews and shares in the benefits of their mitzvah accomplishments. In this way, it is as if he fulfilled all of Torah. This is why the mitzvah of love for others is the "great rule in the Torah."

The word Yisrael forms the initial letters of the words meaning, "There are 600,000 letters in the Torah." Another name of the Jewish people, Yeshurun, forms the initials of "There are 600,000 [Jewish] souls." This teaches us that each Jewish soul is represented by a letter in the Torah.

For a Torah scroll to be fit for use, it cannot be missing even a single letter. Furthermore, each letter of the Torah is unique, for it contains meanings and teachings ? both revealed and hidden ? which are unlike any others in the Torah. Similarly, every Jew is unique and special. God placed him or her on this world to accomplish a mission which no other soul can accomplish.

Nothing but the Truth

[To return to our original discussion of the competitive drive in sports, consider this true story from...] a popular boys' summer camp in upstate New York. It was the Senior Division All-Star Baseball Game of Color War, and hundreds of campers and staff members were sitting on bleachers and standing on the sidelines watching a very exciting game.

The score was tied 1-1 and David Tepper (not his real name) was on second base. David was fifteen years old, in the camp's senior bunk and possibly the best player on his team. His team was in high spirits as he took a lead off second while the next pitch headed toward home plate.

The batter swung and hit a line drive into the outfield. David rounded third and headed for home plate as the crowd roared. There was a play at the plate; as David slid into home, the catcher caught the throw and tagged him. "Safe!" the umpire shouted.

The catcher was obviously upset. He told the umpire, a member of the camp administration, that he had tagged the runner before he had touched home plate. But the umpire stood by his call.

David's team was jubilant. They had taken the lead and were now in a position to pick up some crucial Color War points. And perhaps a victory in the All-Star game would give them the momentum to win Color War.

David had been slow in standing up and dusting himself off. As he walked away from home plate, his teammates surrounded him, pounded him on the back and congratulated him. Strangely, he was the only one who did not seem to be excited. Quietly, he made his way through the crowd and approached the umpire.

"I was out," he said quietly.

The umpire was not sure that he had heard correctly. "What did you say?" he asked.

"I said that I was out," David replied. "I am positive that he tagged me before I touched home plate."

Suddenly, everyone grew silent. Many people had been close enough to hear the conversation and word of David's admission made its way quickly through the crowd.

The umpire pondered the matter silently. This was not a situation which is discussed in the Major League Baseball rulebook. It would never happen in professional sports. No professional ballplayer would admit that he was out after being called "safe" by the umpire.

After what seemed like a very long time, the umpire cleared his throat and said, "Well, I'm human and I can make a mistake. If you're positive that he tagged you before you reached home plate, then you're out."

The game ended in a tie.

On the last night of camp, before the night activity got underway, the head counselor addressed campers and staff: "There are a lot of memories that we take home after an eight-week camp season. But if there's one memory above all that we should take home with us, it's that of David Tepper speaking the truth after being called 'safe'."

From "THE GIFT OF SPEECH" - refining the way we speak - an inspiring blend of laws, stories and insights. Published by ArtScroll/Mesorah

Reprinted with permission from INNERNET.ORG



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