When my daughter was two years old, our apartment building had an electrical fire that ultimately destroyed the two apartments above us. After we evacuated, my wife and I sat with our children on a nearby hill, along with most of the neighborhood, and watched as the red and yellow fire engines came rolling in, one after another. To the adults, the threat to life and property was clear, and we sat still, quietly sharing our worries and thoughts about what was unfolding. When the next set of yellow fire engines arrived, our daughter, in her two-year-old innocence, cheered “Look – more buses, and more buses!” and it was obvious she did not share our fears.
Before we can be trusted with matches, we must learn that fire is dangerous. In a similar vein, when we consider steps to be taken toward unity and peace it’s crucial to understand the dangers of the alternative.
The Jewish month of Av begins this Sunday night. “When Av enters, we decrease our joy,” says the Talmud. Both Holy Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed on the 9th of Av, and the month is historically prone to misfortune. The 1st of Av also marks the day Moses’ brother Aaron, the high priest in the Tabernacle, died, his Yahrzeit (see Numbers 33:38). It’s appropriate to learn a lesson from the deceased on his Yahrzeit so we turn to the Mishna in Pirkei Avos 1:12, “Be students of Aaron. Love peace and pursue peace.” This is a fitting message for the Talmud attributes the destruction of the Second Temple, and the current exile of the Jewish people, to “senseless hatred,” the enemy of peace.
Many of us sadly consider conflict exciting, like playing with matches, and often encourage it. Our culture of cruelty indulges in the pleasure of snarky comments and one-line insults. Cheers of “Fight! Fight! Fight!” can be heard from the sidelines of our society as if we’ve never left the schoolyard. Can we profess to be lovers of peace if we’re busy flexing our debating muscles instead of listening to each other and looking for common ground? To be clear, argument for the sake of uncovering the truth is laudable, and we don’t make peace at any cost. Our goal though must be to build bridges, not create chasms. The 1st step in the peace process, is to step back; to see where the put-downs have taken us, and acquire a distaste for contention. (Based on Rav Shimshon Pincus zt”l)
We cry in Av for the loss of G-d’s Holy Temple and the exile. The cries also mourn the disunity that brought us here. May the rebuilding of our attitudes, and ultimately our relationships and communities, herald the return of G-d’s Presence and closeness, and may we soon peacefully unite in His service.
Rabbi Mordechai Dixler
Program Director, Project Genesis – Torah.org