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Tuesday, 10 June 2014

How to Achieve World Peace

Rosh Hashanah 33

In Trench Warfare, Tony Ashworth describes the Live and Let Live System that often occurred during World War I. 

In order for soldiers to become killing-machines and indiscriminately fight back against enemy fire, they are trained to dehumanize the ‘other’ and view those on the other side of the battlefield as mere objects.  On rare occasions during the War, however, Ashworth reports that combatants from each side would climb out of their trenches and join together in a rare demonstration of the camaraderie of the brotherhood of mankind. 

Sadly, while such behaviour was prevalent in early 1914, it disappeared as the war wore on and nowadays has all but ceased to exist.  How do we bring back such feelings of the brotherhood of humankind?

Concerning Rosh Hashanah, the Torah says, “It shall be a day of teruah (blowing) for you.”  Onkelos translates the word teruah (blowing) as yevava.  What does yevava mean?

Following the epic battle with the Canaanite armies led by Sisera, Deborah the prophetess sings a song of thanksgiving.  Sisera, having been beheaded by Yael, would not be returning home that day.
“By the window, Sisera’s mother looks out and weeps (yavev) at the portal.  Why does his chariot tarry, why are the hoof sounds delayed?”

Thus, concludes Abaye, the blasts of the shofar should sound like weeping.

The song of Deborah offers us a rare glimpse into the difference between men’s and women’s leadership styles.  Generally, soldiers are trained to view those on the other side of the battlefield as less-than-human.   But when Deborah sings her victory song, she takes a moment to think about Sisera, the fellow human being. 

Yes, it’s true that we had to stop him dead in his tracks so that we wouldn’t be destroyed.  But let’s remember that even Sisera, no doubt, has a family waiting for him back home.  The consequences of his death have an impact way beyond his individual physical space.  War is not pretty.  Sometimes it’s necessary, but, says Deborah, let’s not glorify it.  The casualties of the battle – far and wide – are innumerable. 

It’s easy to dismiss the ‘other’ when we demonize them.  They become mere objects.   Deborah teaches us to view everyone as first and foremost fellow human beings.  That is ultimately the key to resolving conflict and making peace.

Whether we’re thinking about the Palestinians in their conflict with the State of Israel, or interdenominational Jewish conflict, it’s important that we always view one another as fellow human beings or fellow Jews.  We have so much more in common than that which divides us. 

Let’s think about one another as real people and the world will be a better place for all.   


  1. Rabbi,
    Regarding this very well written Life Yomi, my experience as a career professional military person shows me that if you take your mind off of the job at hand (self-defense or offense as the case may be) and worry about the other person's loved ones-someone will be writing the condolence letter to your loved ones. Perhaps well after the battle, but that type of sentiment is truly that of poets and Hollywood.
    As for the Palestinians, yes, some may act honorably and truly want peace-but Israel has to be strong(er) and be more like Jabotinsky and less like Peres. In this case, "niceness" needs to be earned as based on past performance.
    As for fellow Jews in other streams, there I agree with you. Reach out our hand to our fellows, but stay strong to our principles.

    Chuck Feinstein

    1. You are 100% correct. I certainly don’t think that we’ll be celebrating ‘Xmas in Gaza’ anytime soon. But it does take major attitudinal changes over the long run. I think in the case of the Palestinians that the culture of demonization of the other (in this case, Israel) is much more rampant and that there are many Israelis that would bend over backwards for the other. But, of course, we’re familiar with Golda Meir’s famous line regarding Israel laying down its weapons.