Thursday, November 16, 2006

Peace amid the chaos -- the legacy of Hillel (Avot 1:12)

הלל ושמאי קיבלו מהם. הלל אומר, הוי כתלמידיו של אהרון--אוהב שלום ורודף שלום, אוהב את הברייות ומקרבן לתורה.

Hillel and Shammai received it [the Torah] from them. Hillel says, may you be like the students of Aharon: love peace and pursue peace; love all living creatures and bring them close to Torah.
In my commentary to our last Mishnah, I proposed that the central defining concept in Judaism is Galut, or Exile. On some days, I would give you another answer if you asked me what that central defining concept in Judaism is. I might say it's the subject raised by today's Mishnah -- Shalom (שלום), usually translated as peace, but also having meanings of wholeness.

Not suprisingly, two of the very most central prayers in Judaism -- the
Amidah and the Kaddish -- conclude with calls for peace; I also conclude every spontaneous (freeform) prayer I offer in my hospital work with a call for peace (for the ill person, for his or her family and for all people).

It is almost a breath of fresh air to be reading the words of Hillel after the darker words of the last two Mishnahs, with their expressed fears of government oppression and of being exiled.

Hillel, too, may have lived in dark times -- likely around the same time as the great upheavels for the Jewish people in which the Christians' Jesus lived. But it is not darkness this great rabbinic sage passed on to us -- it is statements about peace and love and Torah. It is he who helped create a Judaism that could withstand Exile, a Judaism of peace and love.

May your day be one of peace and love and Torah.

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