SALT - Sunday, 16 Iyar 5780 - May 10, 2020

  • Rav David Silverberg
 
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This week's SALT shiurim are dedicated in memory of
David Moshe ben Harav Yehuda Leib Silverberg z"l,
whose yahrzeit is Tuesday 18 Iyar, May 12
.
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            The opening verses of Parashat Bechukotai present the rewards which God promises to bestow upon Benei Yisrael in reward for their compliance with His laws.  God first promises copious amounts of rainfall which will result in an abundance of food, and He then pronounces, “I shall grant peace in the land” (26:6).
 
            Rashi, citing Torat Kohanim, explains, “Lest you say: Here there is food and drink, but if there is not peace, then there is nothing!  It therefore says after all this: I shall grant peace in the land.”  The promise of peace was emphasized, Chazal comment, despite our having already been promised material prosperity, because even abundant food and drink is “nothing” without peace.
 
            It is likely that Torat Kohanim made this comment not simply to explain the progression of the verses here in Parashat Bechukotai, but rather to shape our perspective on the importance of peaceful relations among people.  Chazal sought to remind us that material success offers us very little – or perhaps even “nothing” – if it is achieved without, or at the expense of, peace.  Too often, people sacrifice relationships for the sake of material gain, preferring to instigate or prolong conflict in the pursuit of their financial aspirations.  Chazal here teach us that to the contrary, “food” and “drink” are “nothing” without peace.  If we have to choose between material comfort and peace, we should choose peace, because in the final cost-benefit analysis, conflict and tension with other people is not a reasonable price to pray for financial success.
 
            Rav Menachem Bentzion Sacks, in his Menachem Tziyon, discusses in the context of Rashi’s comments to this verse the common custom to bow to the right and to the left upon completing the Shemona Esrei and kaddish prayers.  We bow as we plead, “Maker of peace in His high places – may He bestow peace upon us and upon all Israel, amen.”  It is conventionally understood that we bow out of respect to God as we complete the prayer.  Rav Sacks, however, added a different possibility, suggesting that our bows express the understanding that we must sometimes “bow” and veer to the “sides” for the sake of peace.  As we beseech God to grant peace upon our nation, we must realize that the blessing of peace depends also on us.  In order to be blessed with peace, we need to be prepared to “bow,” to humbly relent, and to veer away from the course which we had charted.  We cannot pray for peace as long as we refuse to “bow” and refuse to yield.  We cannot pray for peace as long as we insist on moving straight ahead, doing everything we decided we want to do, without occasionally moving to the side, changing our plans and our decisions out of consideration of other people’s needs and wishes. 
 
            This willingness to yield originates from the realization that “if there is not peace, then there is nothing,” that what we gain from strife and conflict is less valuable than the priceless blessing of peace and harmony among people.  Chazal here implore us to make peaceful relations with people a higher priority than material prosperity, and to always remember that wealth has little value when we are embroiled in conflict.