At the end of the Torah reading service, when the Torah is being placed back into the ark, we read the following words:
"For I have given you good teaching, do not forsake My Torah. It is a tree of life for those who grasp it, and its supporters are praiseworthy. Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace. Bring us back to You, Hashem, and we shall return renew our days as of old."
All its paths are peace. What does this mean?
The ultimate peace that mankind hopes for is the Utopia we are promised when Moshiach comes, may it be today, this very minute, when the lion lies down with the lamb and swords are turned into plowshares.
Each person has control over their own thoughts, speech and actions. Or at least, we have the potential to control these. These three are the only things that any person can honestly say they have control over. These are the realm of our free will.
Imagine if every person in the world exercised their free will to choose peace. If that were to happen, there would be, in fact, peace.
When a person chooses to make peace a priority in life, it is because of a desire for this high goal. To accomplish it would require a sacrifice of what one might otherwise want or choose to do. Why would someone choose peace over a goal they have set for themselves? The simple answer is that we may not have had all the information we need when we set our goals. When we have complete information about the impact and consequences of our actions, we may choose to set different goals. What is the value of life? Does it have importance and purpose? Rabbi Zev Leff shares the Essence of Honor discussing it in secular terms and in Torah terms:
Essence of Honor by Rabbi Zev Leff Audio
Rabbi Leff explains that our self-esteem comes from understanding that we have been created for a purpose - that we are important because we are created by The Creator and that we have responsibilities. He distinguishes that from feelings of haughtiness or arrogance. The understanding of our self-esteem and where it comes from is a basic, every moment of every day benefit. It comes up constantly and gives our lives meaning and purpose, all toward inner peace, peace in the home, and peace in the community. Why? Because it means that we live according to Torah whose paths are all peace.
Practically speaking what does this mean? If someone upsets me, if there is an injustice, how am I to respond?
When we are in "our stuff", we are suffering, as Rabbi Salomon said...and as such we want justice or what we perceive as justice. But justice is in the hands of Hashem, and is not our realm - our perceptions may not be accurate! Or, if they are accurate,it may be a test of us to see if we are willing to follow Torah paths alone.
Why? What would such a test be for?
A lifetime is for building eternity. If we spend our time in this frame of reference taking on Hashem's responsibilities to shepherd those around us toward justice and rectification, we have failed to build our eternity. Only Hashem can do this for another peson in a way that is exact and proper and that the other person will grow from because only Hashem knows the intentions and can measure and weigh all the circumstances and impacts of the matter. A Torah path is recognition that we are in control of our thoughts, speech and deed and that our choices in these regard are what will build our eternity, and nothing else.
So, even though upset and negative feelings are more present and justifiable when we are in a test, emunah (faith) is that Hashem will take care of correcting the other person who in our perception has erred...it is not our realm to take revenge, bear a grudge or take any action other than loving our fellow Jew. Our realm is to build eternity and closeness and fulfill the Ratzon of Hashem so that we make proper use of our time here. We are told that we may speak to the person in a Torah manner to let them know we are upset, provided that we do not incur a sin in the process by embarrassing them or harming them - and hopefully this will lead to forgiveness and resolution. However, assuming the more likely situation that this action does not, then what?
Does accepting that Hashem will deal with that situation or person have a this-world sensation of satisfaction in the same way that seeing justice done does? Not even close. However, there is an acquired taste of satisfaction when one sees the light and well-being (Shefa) that a person can bring to a situation by emulating His Middos and knowing that we have taken the path of Torah. This light and well-being is peace.
Heaven forfend that we would rely only on our own ability to render justice, which can only be fraught with sins (averahs) and a host of acts for which we will receive punishment. Not only would we be squandering our energy and incurring sin but there is also the opportunity cost of not having emulated His Middos and of doing mitzvahs. If our energy is wrapped up in negativity, we lose twice.
Rabbi Mattisyahu Salomon in his Tisha B'Av class in 2008 tells us that we have to understand that we are suffering from this - that we suffer from our jealousies and egotistical wants, even when we get what we want! He offers that we should train ourselves to say, "I don't want suffering, I only want You (meaning the Creator)" and that this will help us shift to connection and the path of choosing to shine His Light.
A daily tool to build this ability is prayer.
When a person prays, often we have stray thoughts - what about? The things that we are involved with, that we are struggling with. By saying this same phrase, "I don't want suffering, I only want You" a person can practice building their spiritual side. Then, when emotionally when we are tested, we have a bridge to our spiritual side. This is a mutual benefit...each test with which we succeed in choosing to bring light builds our ability to have good concentration when we pray, and when we desire closeness during prayer in this way, it builds the ability to succeed in our emotional tests.
Peace starts within each person. Basic to peace is the understanding that there is a far greater consciousness in the world than the consciousness (or even the collective sub-consciousness) of all mankind, and that relating to that greater consciousness is the most pleasurable existence for a person while alive. Each person is a puzzle piece in the whole picture, a picture much larger than the combined total of the entire human race.
Unfortunately, what 9/11 and terrorism has brought upward in our consciousness is that intimidation is effective, yielding power, and that there are ways to intimidate and use sympathy to successfully affect public opinion. What is even more confusing is that murderous crimes are being declared for a higher consciousness! And what is still more confusing is that the success of these murderous crimes means that they are permitted by the Creator, which in turn means that they are, in fact in accordance with His Will and Divine Justice. Are the people who inflict the suffering choosing the best way of serving the Creator? If the roles of man and the Creator are not properly understood, one might make a huge mistake and ask - Is the most pleasurable existence for a person while alive (relating to the greatest consciousness there is) the dedicated use of the lowest sociopathological character traits found in mankind - hate, intimidation, unrepentant destruction - in the name of Divine justice? What is the relationship between the Creator and a person who chooses with his free will to commit murder?
What nags at civilized consciousness is the role of intimidation and terror - we are all brought into its psychological grip, suffering with how it affects our sense of value. Our holy energy that is intended to do good in this world and intended to emulate the Creator's qualities is drawn down into exploring how to survive and how we can protect and defend ourselves physically from those determined to utilize their spark of Divinity to destroy - and it is a short walk before we are, heaven forfend, drawn so far downward into the erroneous belief that we question if there is a higher consciousness in the picture at all, or worse, that if there is, we don't want anything to do with it! If we are unable to recognize that within mankind is the potential to choose acts that bring evil into full reign in the world, we are too easily drawn deeper into the erroneous belief that there is no higher consciousness in the world and we fall into the clutches of the darkest levels of human nature, never realizing that we are in the grips of something that cannot be solved by human intelligence without the help of Heaven. In such a scenario, we will draw down all our resources until there are none left and chaos reigns worldwide.
The reality is that the Creator has given people free will to go as far astray as we choose from the ethical dictates of the Ten Commandments, seeking tyrannic power, discriminatory and hateful control, effecting destruction, chasing illicit desires and more. With our free will we can push the Creator out! He gave us this choice. We have free will, the G-d-given right to choose or reject the moral precepts of the Creator; however, we do not exist in a free, un-judged spiritual environment. The longer we turn away from the knowledge that there is a Creator and a higher consciousness operating, the more vulnerable we are to succumbing to erroneous beliefs that add our holy energy to the wrong side of the equation, becoming part of the problem instead of part of the solution. Our choices affect us as individuals, as a society, and as mankind. The solution is to recognize and return to the rules of the Creator, not to submit like an abused woman to the dictates of the sticks He uses to wake us up. We were given a set of ethical rules and the choice to use our energy to observe the rules or not for a purpose. The purpose is for us to choose a relationship with the Creator based on love and fear that will benefit us now and for eternity. It is time to turn upwards and comprehend that we live in a spiritual ecosystem with Divine Justice and that we play the starring role and our actions matter.
If there were a murderer on trial and he said that he committed the crime because a god told him to, he would be considered insane.
All the monotheistic religions accept that the Ten Commandments were given on Mount Sinai by the Creator. Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky on Tisha B'Av said that the Creator could have given the Ten Commandments on one long tablet. Instead, the Ten Commandments were given on two tablets, with the five on the left which deal with our relationship to the Creator paralleling the five on the right dealing with our relationships with other people.
The sixth commandment is "Do not murder" and this is parallel to "I am the Lord Your G-d" - Rabbi Orlofsky tells us plainly that when we see another person, we respect that other person as having a bit of G-d within, and that if we know there is a Creator, out of respect and awareness, we do not murder. This commandment is from the Creator, clear and unambiguous.
The overall goal is perhaps what every person on earth might agree to - peace. No matter what religion we are, people want peace. Peace starts with each person. It is a choice, to have a close relationship with the Creator and to emulate Him through acts of kindness and love. Not only that, it is a free choice…there is no cost to it, no army needed, no bombs, no tanks, no guns. Choose peace through acts of kindness and brotherly love. Any ideology claiming that the Creator is happy when one person acts out of hate, terrorism, rejection, murder or other crimes is in direct conflict with the simple reality of the sixth commandment.
The forces of darkness come from a spiritual realm beyond the reach of what mankind can control with mankind's intelligence - the forces of darkness are balanced with mankind's choice to bring to this frame of reference the Creator's light, love and peace by following His ethical rules set forth in the Ten Commandments including the Seven Noahide Laws applicable to non-Jewish people.