The following speech was delivered at a peace rally in New Rochelle:
I stand here before you not as the voice of my synagogue, nor as the voice of any movement, organization, or branch of Judaism. Rather, I am here to join the voice of Judaism to the other faith-traditions who have all come together today in common purpose, as well as to join my voice to the voice of the human family, crying out in pain and desperation. We are a world in need of peace.
I stand before you today on the Jewish sabbath–a day set aside for perfect rest and peace. But how can we rest when there are so many in unrest? How can we enjoy peace here and now when so many do not? Tradition would teach me, as a Jew, that I should not break the Sabbath. I stand here to state with sorrow that the Sabbath is broken as long as our world is without peace.
And what of this peace? Do we demand a cessation of war? Is that all? Or is more demanded of us?
The Hebrew word for peace, “Shalom”, means much more than a world without war. It comes from the word, “Shleimut,” meaning “wholeness.” The prophet Micah says, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” But even then true peace would not be with us. Wholeness comes not from mere tolerance, but also from acceptance of the other. We pray today for nations to not only lay down their weapons, but also to work towards a true, lasting, and whole peace.
And what of justice, which we are taught to pursue? Many in this great nation would say to us that there can be no lasting peace until justice is done. This is true: We cannot be at total peace as long as we feel justice is undone, but the pursuit of peace does not automatically dictate violence, hatred, and the dehumanization of another fellow human being. In Deuteronomy 20:10 we read: “When you approach a town to attack it, you shall offer it terms of peace.” Even when there is an immediate need for an offensive gesture, the first thing offered is terms of peace. Are we living today under such rules, where the terms of peace are outlined? Are we offering those terms?
What are the nations of the world doing to ensure peace? Where are the great designs, the willing partners, the brave leaders? We, ourselves, have become a nation disillusioned with our government and leadership. We have become disenfranchised and resigned to a status-quo. As opposed to challenging ourselves and others with the true hard work needed to bring lasting peace to the world, we embrace our fear, and react instead of respond.
Judaism teaches that “you shall not stand by while your neighbor bleeds.” The world has been bleeding long enough. We are not working toward wholeness, nor are we trying very hard to end violence and destruction. It is a sign that we have given up hope. It is very difficult to reach out to one’s enemy, but it is necessary–now more than ever. And it is very difficult in a world where so many feel disempowered to rise up with the conviction needed to bring about lasting peace in the world. But this is our charge today. It is demanded of each and every member of the human race. Let us spread the word of peace. Let each of us, in our own ways, tell our family and friends, tell our senators and congress people, tell the leaders of every nation: Lay down your arms so that we may begin the healing of the world! We can no longer stand idly by while our world bleeds! Martin Buber, the noted Jewish theologian, wrote, “The truly daring are not those who dream of conquest and subjugation, but rather those who look to the future, when nations will live together, in brotherhood.”
Let us pray:
Sim shalom, tova uv’rakha, khein vakhesed v’rakhamim…
Grant us peace, Thy most precious gift, O Thou Eternal Source of peace, and give us the will to proclaim its message to all the peoples of the earth. Bless our country, that it may always be a stronghold of peace, and its advocate among the nations. May contentment reign within its borders, health and happiness within its homes. Strengthen the bonds of friendship among the inhabitants of all lands, and may the love of Your name hallow every home and every heart. We praise You, O God, the Source of peace.