A Little Peace in Our Time
(Insights from this week's Portion: Naso)
Hi All – the title of this article is derived from my friend & partner Aryeh Cohen's beautiful, stirring song “A Little Peace in Our Time” (not to be confused with the fateful, naively optimistic words “peace for our time” by Neville Chamberlain, who – notwithstanding his good intentions – somehow became convinced that he had made a lasting peace with Adolph Hitler). During The Chevra's Israel Trip in '07, while standing on a rock at a military outpost overlooking Gaza, Aryeh resoundingly belted out this song towards Gaza itself. I wasn't sure whether to run for cover or sing harmony (I think I did both) – but I was sure that it was quite a powerfully moving experience.
Have a Wonderful & Peaceful Shabbos! Love, Jon & The Chevra
♪“THE WAITING IS THE HARDEST PART1”♫
It's an elusive state of being, often yearned for but ever awaited: Peace. It's as though peace in this world is only granted short-term visitation rights, briefly blowing in with the wind but blowing away as abruptly as it arrived. Judaism teaches that in one sense, the world was naturally set up that way. In fact, as we see throughout Jewish thought and Liturgy, the word “Shalom” (“Peace”) is related to the concept of “Shalem” (“Completion”) – which is why the word “Shalom” repeatedly shows up at the COMPLETION of our prayers and meditations. Examples:
♪“CARRY ON MY WAYWARD SON – THERE’LL BE PEACE WHEN YOU ARE DONE2”♫
- KADDISH: Which words do we find at the CLIMAX of the Kaddish (a fundamental Prayer of praise for G-d, often recited by mourners)? “Oseh SHALOM...” (“He who makes Peace...”)!
- SHEMONEH ESREI: How do we CONCLUDE the Shemoneh Esrei (the standing “Amidah”, which serves as the pinnacle component of our prayer service)? “Sim SHALOM...” (“Emplace Peace...”)!
- PRIESTLY BLESSING [ from this week's Portion]: And what is the FINAL WORD that represents the high point of the Priestly Blessing, which the Kohanim (Jewish Priests) recite while positioning their hands in the configuration made famous by Star Trek's Mr. Spock? Following the prolonged, hauntingly beautiful melodies of the Kohanim is a single, long-awaited word: “...SHALOM” (“...Peace”)! Examples:
♪“A TIME FOR PEACE, I SWEAR IT'S NOT TOO LATE3”♫
King Solomon provides us with another well-known example of peace arriving only at the very end, in his epic Biblical Poem from the Book of Ecclesiastes. Adeptly adapted into mainstream music by Pete Seeger – whose “Turn, Turn, Turn” was later popularized in the 1960's by the Byrds – the wisest of men artfully illustrates the notion that timing is everything. Through presenting the validity of contrasting behaviors such as “a time to laugh” and “a time to cry”, he eloquently expresses that character traits and actions must also be measured by how and when they are brought into expression, and that even realities such as war have their appropriate season and manifestation. But one penetrating commentator lets us in on a historical secret: that the Poem's 28-part list of “a time to” phrases is ordered in accordance with the flow of history: from the creation of humanity to the culmination of history.
How does the poem begin? “A time to be BORN and a time to DIE...” The commentator elucidates these words as referring to the beginning of humankind (i.e. free-will based humanity): first, Adam and Eve were BORN; and while the original intention was for them to be immortal, they brought the reality of DEATH into the world through their early actions. While the commentator also maps the other “a time to” phrases to specific historical eras, let's skip to the relevant piece of our puzzle. What are the final words of the Poem? “A time for WAR and a time for PEACE” (or, if you'd rather sing along with the musical rendition: “A Time for Peace, I swear it's not too late”). The commentator elucidates these words as referring to the culmination of history: that prior to the Era of everlasting Peace would be the Era of escalated war. According to this order, we have clearly been laboring in the throes of the “time for War” Era for quite some time now.
♪“BUT YOU KNOW THE DARKEST HOUR IS ALWAYS, ALWAYS JUST BEFORE THE
So when do we get to welcome the long-awaited Era known as “a time for Peace”? The beautifully refreshing news is that we might be able to usher in this Era at any time! As Crosby, Stills, and Nash craftily point out to us (in Crosby's crisp vocal masterpiece “Long Time Gone”), “the Darkest Hour is always, always just before the Dawn”. The last century has had more than its share of darkest hours – the new Day can literally dawn at any moment.
And from another vantage point, The Era of Peace is also described as an Era of eternal Shabbos-like serenity, when super-Shabbos-like energy will perpetually prevail. In that context, let us not forget that we are allowed to bring in Shabbos early, as is commonly practiced during the summer (except when someone is late in sending out his Edutainment email!). May we be blessed to welcome an early Era of eternal Shabbos-like serenity, and may we all be alive and healthy to greet the long-awaited climax of our history! May this Era come soon in our days – the time when we can finally greet a true and lasting “Peace in our time”!
Have a Wonderful, Peaceful Shabbos! Love, Jon & The Chevra
EDUTAINMENT TRIVIA: can any of you name a Classic Rock common thread linking the “Turn, Turn, Turn” quote to the “Long Time Gone” quote? [The 44th person to email me a correct response would receive a prize commensurate with what the first 43 would receive (i.e. a hearty Mazal Tov!)]
1. From “The Waiting”, by Tom Petty
2. From “Carry on my Wayward Son”, by Kansas
3. From “Turn, Turn, Turn”, by Peter Seeger (later popularized by The Byrds)
4. The illustrious Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna (1720 - 1797)
5. From “Long Time Gone”, by David Crosby
Text Copyright © 2009 by Jon Erlbaum and