"Peace is the greatest blessing. Speech is what makes us human. Keeping our word makes us close to Divine."
This week's commentary is dedicated to the memory of my holy father, I.J. Melman, whose yahrzeit is on this coming Friday, Tammuz 27. His life was dedicated to transforming the world and making it better and closer through kindness and the promise of technology.
When he was just seven he asked his Rebbe at Chaim Berlin Yeshiva, if it is forbidden to light a fire on Shabbos, then why did G*d command Aaron to light the menorah each day, even on Shabbos, and to bring not one, but two offerings on Shabbos in the Holy Temple, in the Beit HaMiqdash? What a holy, deep question! But he was beaten for asking it, for what was assumed to be chutzpah, and so his father took him out of yeshiva, and sent him to public school, for no one should ever hit a child for asking good questions! That is not the way of Torah! But the Torah's loss was the world's gain!
He went on to develop the first color television, the first fax machine, the infrared detectors that the first satellites in space used for navigation, and later used in night vision technology, emergency exit lights and computer infomatics, and was a founding member of the IEEE and the National Color Standards Commission.
This week's reading speaks about peace. About peace in the home/heart/hearth and peace in the nation. The parsha opens with an admonition to the tribal heads to tell the people that they must keep their oaths and not break their word. The spoken word is sacred.
Immediately thereafter it deals with vows made by a woman, and their possible annulment by her husband and/or father. How do these ideas connect? The linkage is the concept we call Shalom Bayit- Peace in the Home. Peace on the macro level and peace on the micro level. Peace in the national home and peace in the domestic home. Peace in the individual home between husband and wife, and peace in the House of Israel between the tribes. And most importantly, peace in the heart!
The heart has two ventricles. They have to work in unison, beating to the same rhythm, or else the person is deep trouble. They must work as a team. There is no I in team, and no ego may dominate. Imagine one ventricle says to the other: I am greater than you. And the other does the same. If they stop working together then they both lose.
The Arabs and the Jews both come from one father - Abraham, and all humanity comes from one father- G*d. The Arabs and the Jewish people have the power to work together to transform the Middle East from the sea to the river Euphrates into a truly blessed Garden of Eden where all can live together without fear. When all can make room in our hearts for the other then true peace will emerge. If we don't work together then we all lose.
Before the British relinquished control of their Mandate many worked for peace in the region. The King of Iraq shared this vision but was assassinated for welcoming the rebirth of Israel in her ancient land. The King of Jordan shared this vision but was also assassinated for the same reason. Peace was possibly at hand. Can you imagine how much bloodshed and pain and suffering could have been averted if all had shared this vision?
Working together in harmony the children of Abraham could yet transform hate into love, fear into understanding and acceptance. Israel, Jordan and Iraq all share the land from the "sea to the river." One day the dream of Eden will again become reality.
Hamas sows a poisonous hatred in the hearts of our Arab brothers. Because of Hamas we put up walls to keep out those bent on murder and violence. In their vision the other- the infidel, has no
merit or even right to exist. The walls in their heart force us to erect our walls. They sow fear in the heart of those who seek peace. Israel has returned home. Let all the children of Abraham rejoice. Leviticus 19:18 teaches us to love our neighbor as ourself. Hamas teaches to hate your neighbor as yourself.
This concept of peace and tranquility begins to break down when people don't keep the promises that they made- whether under the huppah of their own wedding or Israel's national huppah at Sinai. Or the promise of Ishmael and Itzchaq to honor their father Avraham at his funeral at the Tomb of the Patriarchs by learning to live together in peace - both they and their seed.
When either spouse puts his or her personal interests above that of the union the harmony and peace within the family begins to unravel. The covenant of the holy bond must be stronger than the private interests of either party. Their common vision must be set before them always.
Peace within the nation of Israel similarly begins to break down when various factions- the "tribes of Israel," put their own personal interests above that of the national well-being. Only the vows they make to place the national interests first restores the sense of unity and national Shalom Bayit.
In Numbers 30: 3, in the context of the Laws of Vows, it says: K'CHAWL HAYOTZEI MIPEEV YA'ASEH- "he must do as he says." And then a bit further it uses similar phraseology in the context of the desires of the tribes, Reuben and Gad (and half of Menashe), to settle the TransJordan (East Bank), away from the other tribes who were to be settled in CisJordan (West Bank). In Numbers 32:24 it says: VEHAYOTZAI MIPEECHEM TA'ASU - "and as you say so shall you do."Exactly the same language! One version is in the singular. The other is in the plural. And each for the same concept - Shalom- the peace and harmony of all sharing the same vision.
The point the Torah is making is that in all situations we must strive to keep our word if we want Shalom Bayit. It is a great sin not to keep one's word. Nowhere in the Torah does it say that one is bound solely by a written agreement. Unlike in today's society, the bond of obligation is sealed with the word alone.
Today Iran's leaders have vowed to wipe Israel off the map, and are at the brink of developing the nuclear weapons they wish to employ to achieve that aim. We must take them at their word.
Peace is the greatest blessing. Shalom Bayit- whether a peace agreement or a marriage vow, domestic bliss or national security, it begins and ends with keeping one's word. Speech is what makes us human. Keeping our word makes us close to Divine.
Above all else, the Nation of Israel promised G*d that she and her descendants would always be a light unto the nations, a nation of priests and a holy nation - an Or LaGoyim, a mamlechet kohanim veGoy Qadosh. We forget that oath at our own peril.