In this week’s sedra God tells Moses many things. Some of it difficult for the modern mind to accept such as the laws relating to the suspected adulteress without so much as a mention of any laws for the suspected adulterer (5:12-31). But hard on its heels comes a complete contradiction – the laws of the Nazarites which seem to offer spiritual equality to both sexes (6:2-21). And then tucked away after the Nazirite laws and between instructions for who is to transport the Tabernacle and who is to make an offering once the Tabernacle is assembled, we suddenly come upon a lovely familiar piece - the priestly blessing (6: 24-26) that we hear in the synagogue service and that I’ve been lucky enough to hear Terry recite whenever our children are with us on a Friday night.
The three-fold priestly blessing culminates with the word ‘shalom’ – peace. A word not to be taken lightly. It means ‘completeness’ and in the Torah is used in different contexts to denote health, welfare, security and tranquillity. Shalom is not a namby-pamby soft option. Tradition says that ‘peace is one of the pillars of the world: without it the social order could not exist’. Therefore the Rabbis of the Talmud ask that we do our utmost to promote it. Starting with the individual, we are told to make a point of being the first to say hello and smile at passers-by in the street. We are not only to be peaceful ourselves, but to help others to be peaceful too. Shalom is a national as well as a personal ideal. And thinking very much of Israel, yes it is sadly essential to fight in order to defend ourselves. But it is also essential to believe that this is not the only way to bring about security and ultimate friendship and peace with our neighbours. Shalom sums up an active world-view and that means doing something that may make a difference.
I can think of no better way than education: encouraging Israeli Arab and Jewish children to attend school together, to play together, to learn each other’s language and to understand that the ‘Other’ is not always my enemy. We can think of it as a toehold for the beginning of the beginning of the Messianic peace that the Prophets declared would spread over the world and include all peoples. Or we can think of it as the sociologist Malinowski (1884-1942) wrote “In the life history of every individual, from the cradle to the grave, education is that which either bestows upon him the freedom of his culture, or else deprives him of it”.