Monday night, my 16 year-old daughter embarked on a 5-week program to Israel, a trip that we have planned for, anticipated and envisioned since her Bat Mitzvah. Complying with the “1 Piece Of Luggage Weighing 50 lbs. Rule”, we prioritized, took things out and added them back in, trying to get the “right” 50 lbs. that would include the things she needed, leave behind what she didn’t, and that reflected her new maturity and taste.
And I realized that even though I was sending her to Israel with lots and lots of stuff, the most important possessions she has are her indomitable spirit, an open heart, and an intrinsic and innate penchant for peace.
My natural parental anxiety was heightened, however, by tensions caused by the heartrending murders of the three teens. As much as I cry, and feel as if Tisha B’Av came early this year, I am still here, safely on the sidelines. On the other hand, I was sending my daughter into Ground Zero, a House of Mourning. I wanted to keep her home, with my arms wrapped around her, holding her tight and “safe” and yet I sent her off, along with hundreds of excited and fearless children.
It was no longer just a summer trip. It was about making a statement. I was taken back to when the Second Lebanon war started, and I jumped on a plane to Israel for a Solidarity Mission. I remember a quote by Ambrose Redmoon: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” It’s easier to jump in oneself, though, rather than let go.
By the time I arrived home from JFK airport, however, the news was increasingly unsettling, and I couldn’t sleep. By Tuesday, my husband and I were totally unnerved. He threw his cell phone into the trash by mistake – Big Mistake - and I was so distracted listening to the news on the radio, I drove my car into a parking meter, cracking the hood of my car. When will it end? When did it ever end? And I thought it was eerie how last week’s Torah portion and this one seemed so parallel to current events.
Hearing the news of the confirmed deaths of the three boys last Friday was cruelly ironic, as we were about to read the Torah portion of Balak. Balak, the Moabite king, was an insane and paranoid anti-Semite who retained Bilaam, a prophet-for-hire, to curse and weaken the Jewish people while they were still in the desert, so he could destroy them in a military battle.
Reading that Torah portion made me realize nothing has changed. Hatred simply has no stale date. Today, Jews are cursed in the media, maligned from the pulpit and as a matter of accepted social and political policy. But on that day in the desert, where the storyline of Balak took place, the words that came out of Bilaam’s mouth were not curses, but blessings. It was almost comedic. Imagine an actor opening his mouth to deliver a diatribe, and instead, he bursts into a lilting song – three times in a row.
Furious that his plan was thwarted, Balak changed his tact and sent Midianite women to entice and seduce the Jewish men, with the hope that it would unravel the moral fabric of their society. The choice of sending Midianite women (as opposed to Moabite women) was deliberate. After Moses had left Egypt, he lived in Midian for forty years. Zipporah, his wife, was a Midianite, as was Yitro, Moses’ father-in-law who had converted and whose name bears the Torah Portion where the Ten Commandments were revealed. Sending these women was like an “inside job,” meant to totally blindside and humiliate Moses, and it worked. The women succeeded in their assignment, a plague broke out killing thousands, and Moses stood by, as if paralyzed.
In the midst of this chaos and calamity, a young man, Pinchas (and the name of this week’s Torah portion), knew what needed to be done, and without regard to his own fate, he grabbed a spear, and in one swift and decisive move, killed both Zimri, a prince of his tribe, and Cosbi, his Midianite paramour, also of high rank. Suddenly, there was stillness and the dying stopped. As if the world had suddenly awakened and came to its senses, everything was suddenly “OK”.
There was no retribution for Cosbi’s death. Nor was there anger from the tribe from which Zimri hailed. Not only was Pinchas not punished for this unauthorized killing, but God bestowed upon him an “eternal covenant of peace “- in effect - the first Nobel Peace Prize. And in next week’s Torah portion, God commands the Jewish people to wage war against the Midianites, and Pinchas is the victorious general, and, (Spoiler Alert), Bilaam gets killed.
Today, our children are dying because of the ceaseless plague of hatred and violence of those with a worldview that Jews simply have no rightful place in this world. And we are paralyzed, helpless and bewildered at a world that makes this our never- ending fault.
So, is the answer that we need a Pinchas to stop the plague and bring the world to its senses? I ask forgiveness in advance for the chutzpah of even having an opinion on the subject, but I think the answer to that question depends on what kind of peace you want to achieve.
About a year ago, I met Rav Hillel Weinberg, son of the late Rav Noah Weinberg, z”l, the founder of Aish HaTorah. When I told Rav Hillel that I was leaving my divorce law practice to become a marriage and relationship coach, he immediately said, “Ah - so you are changing from being a ‘maker of peace’ to being a ‘creator of peace’.”
That was an eye opening statement, because I had never thought of divorce as “making peace”. But it made perfect sense. Divorce decrees, court orders and agreements do bring about a cease fire, and they can end the “marriage wars”, but just like any typical peace treaty or military victory – they do not heal wounds, they do not repair what has been broken, and agreements and even orders are tenuous at best - broken routinely, causing endless rounds of contempt petitions. Creating true shalom bayit (marital harmony in the home) on the other hand, is not a peace treaty or even conflict-resolution, but creating a new state of wholeness and interconnected well-being.
While Pinchas’ actions were absolutely correct and appropriate for the situation, he “made” peace, which was a temporary fix. He didn’t achieve a global sustained transformation. He didn’t “create” peace. So why did he get the “covenant of everlasting peace”? In my opinion, the world always needs good and brave people who can act swiftly and decisively, and can unilaterally impose a much-needed solution in a situation. It is the “top-down” conquering energy of the hero, and God knows, we need heroes. But that peace is externally imposed.
True shalom, peace that is based on wholeness, cannot be achieved that way. True peace, which is based on empathy, compassion, and interconnectedness, cannot be imposed externally. It has to arise internally; not top down, but bottom up. It is organic, consensus-based and transformational. This type of peace is not obtained by conquering, but by cultivation. We cannot outsource the peace-process. We must become creators and cultivators of peace.
When people say that they want world peace, I ask them – “So, tell me, do you have inner peace?” Peace isn’t something that exists out there, outside of you – it’s something that you create as an internal way of being. It’s tending the Garden, our inner garden, and it’s a process, because transformation is not a quick fix.
And while we yearn for and pray for the final redemption and era of the Messiah, we must cultivate peace – until peace cultivates us.
The youngest of the murdered teens was 16 years old, the same age as my daughter. My daughter (who is much calmer than her parents) will experience Israel in its gamut from the heights of holiness to the depths of holy terror.
And while she may hear for calls of retaliation that will summon the much-needed valor of Pinchas, I pray that she will also heed the call of another type of peace, that despite the odds and evidence, despite the hatred and violence, she will be continue to be a lover of peace and she will be a creator of peace.
And I pray that she will come home with an even bigger heart, a fierce connection to the Land of Israel, and that her good deeds, her love of Torah and indomitable spirit will play a part in the real peace process that will elevate the whole world into a state of interconnected well-being.
Hanna Perlberger, JD, BCC, CIPP – a former divorce lawyer turned Relationship Coach, helps singles and couples take action to realize their relationship goals by providing them with the tools and processes for on-going self development and support for their relationships. For clients who want to focus on their individual well-being, Hanna offers holistic wellness coaching as well. Certified in positive psychology with Dr. Tal Ben Shahar, Hanna’s coaching comes from the paradigm of strengths-based coaching and appreciative inquiry. Her professional skills combined with her personal passion for Judaism create a unique approach to her coaching, writing, and speaking. To find out more, please visit her website at MakeTheBestofYou.
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