Finding Peace in a World Without Peace


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Today is June first, which doesn’t mean much if you live in certain parts of the world, but here in Florida it’s the official first day of hurricane season.

Today is a simply beautiful late spring day. We usually don’t have major storms this early in the season, but the local media are full of dire warnings about how to prepare, what to stockpile, and how to plan for your children, pets, and home. They also are happy to show terrifying photos of hurricanes past, especially Ian which devastated parts of the state last fall.

June first is the beginning of Pride Month too, and my Facebook feed is full of positive messages about supporting the LGBTQ community, mostly from allies. It’s uplifting, but at the same time, it saddens me that we have to publicly declare our support.

I feel the same way about prejudice against gay people as I do about prejudice against Jews; why can’t they just leave us alone to live our lives in peace? Why do prejudiced people spend their time and energy on hating us? Don’t they have better things to do? Like living their own lives peacefully?

This dichotomy between gloomy and bright perspectives on the world is reflected in this week’s Torah portion. It includes the sotah, the ridiculous trial that a suspected adulteress is forced to undergo, and the Birkat Ha’Kohanim, the beautiful priestly blessing.

I despise the sotah, and love the priestly blessing. I wish the latter cancelled out the former, but unfortunately both are right there in the Torah, tantalizingly near to one another. (See Numbers 4:21 to 7:89. It’s also the longest Torah portion.)

Embedded in this very long Torah portion is the briefest of poems, the blessing that the priests are to bestow upon the people:

May God bless you and protect you!
May God’s face shine upon you and show you favor!
May God’s face shine divine light upon you, and bestow upon you peace! (Numbers 6:24-26).

Here it is in Hebrew, a mere 15 words in three lines, each line two words longer than the last:

יְבָרֶכְךָ֥ יְהֹוָ֖ה וְיִשְׁמְרֶֽךָ׃

יָאֵ֨ר יְהֹוָ֧ה ׀ פָּנָ֛יו אֵלֶ֖יךָ וִֽיחֻנֶּֽךָּ׃ 

יִשָּׂ֨א יְהֹוָ֤ה ׀ פָּנָיו֙ אֵלֶ֔יךָ וְיָשֵׂ֥ם לְךָ֖ שָׁלֽוֹם:

Who does the blessing mean by “you”? In the biblical text, it is quite clear that “you” refers to the Jewish people, the Children of Israel.

I believe that today “you” must be expanded to include everyone, everywhere. Because if only a few people have peace, there can be no real peace.

The people who choose to hate me merely because I am Jewish must be able to find peace in their own lives, if I am to live in peace. The people who hate and discriminate against LGBTQ folks, immigrants, brown people, black people, and everyone who seems to be different, need to find peace for themselves, to know that surface differences are only that, and that God loves everyone, no matter what.