Shabbat Parashat R'ei | 5769
Ein Ayah: The Root of One's Peaceful Relationships With Other
(based on Ein Ayah, Berachot 2:20)
Gemara: Rav said: Whoever says “Shalom” to his friend before he prays is like one who made him into a bamah (forbidden altar), as the pasuk says: “Refrain yourself from a person whose soul is in his breath, for in what (bameh) does he have importance” (Yeshaya 2:22). Do not read the word as “bameh” but as “bamah.”
Ein Ayah: The foundation of peace and unity between people can find expression in one of two ways. It can be based on an internal realization of the Divine desire for the goal of peace and unity between human beings. Hashem wants this because we are all brothers of our Father in Heaven and because peace and unity is conducive to producing the great, desired situations of completeness in wisdom, justice, and straightness.
There is also a simple reason that draws people to peace. A person realizes that he is social by nature. If he were to be isolated, he would not succeed in attaining the things he wants, nor would he be able to gain the upper hand over those more powerful than he. In contrast, when many band together through the peace that exists between them, they will attain that which they desire, and each individual will fulfill his desires.
Obviously, the first approach to harmonious relationships can be built only on the foundation of recognition of the honor of Heaven and the prominence of Divine Providence over mankind. In contrast, the simple, natural, second approach exists even for atheists. Upon contemplation, we will see that there are significant differences between the unity that exists due to the first, true and high reason and the self-serving approach.
The first one is based on true love of the collective. As such, as the days go on, the love of the collective will only grow, which is the idea behind what Chazal call a gathering that is for the sake of Heaven, which is destined to continue (Avot 4:11). In contrast, unity based on one’s love of himself is unity by coincidence, as it is actually based on concern for the individual, not the collective. Therefore, the unity is not destined to continue over time because it has no true focal point. Although the unity appears to grow, ultimately all the individuals will try to pull maximum benefit toward themselves specifically, out of which hatred and civil war can grow.
When we lived in our Land and built the Beit Hamikdash, it served as the center and the place where our unity was most strongly manifested. That is why the local, private altars (bamot) were forbidden, even though it was possible to band together around the bamot to form small groups. The problem is that such small-minded requests bring disunity in regard to the major center, thus reducing national unity, which is necessary for the Divine desire to be fulfilled properly.
For the same reason, the gemara speaks negatively about one who greets his friend with “Peace” before he prays. He thereby demonstrates that he does not view recognition of Hashem as a matter of essence, the basis for peace and the cause for its survival, but as a coincidence. Such a person thinks that peace should come from a natural recognition of one’s interests. This sort of connection with others actually separates them. In that way he turns his friend into a bamah, which appears to bring people together to serve Hashem, but on a larger scale, distances people from the greater goals of unity. Similarly, when one raises the banner of joint humanity without mentioning Hashem and showing that the Name of the King to Whom peace belongs is the foundation of peace, is dangerous. While it can unify in the short term, limiting the honor of Heaven will of necessity bring on bad characteristics, and each individual’s self-love will grow to the point that true peace will not be able to exist, and the misguided unity will cause rifts and major lacking in society.
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