Peace: Jewish Traditional Sources

The concept of peace is deeply ingrained in the Jewish legal and ethical system.

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Reprinted with permission from Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.

Proverbs 3: 17

Her ways are pleasant ways, And all her paths, peaceful. [“Her” refers to khohmah, wisdom, which Proverbs refers to as feminine.]

Excerpts from the Tractate of Derech Eretz: The Peace Chapter

It was taught that Rabbi Shimon Ben Gamliel said, “The world is maintained by three things, by justice, by truth and by peace.” Rav Muna said, “These three actually are one. If justice is present then truth is present and this makes peace. And all three are found in the same verse, as it is written, “Judge with the justice of truth and peace within your gates.” Wherever there is justice there will be peace. And wherever there is peace there is justice.

Peace Chapter Navigator

1. Which values are the means and which value is the end according to Rav Muna?

2. Is it true that peace will define justice?

Hezkiya said, “How great is peace, for every commandment in the Torah is written with it. [For example]: “When you encounter your enemy’s ox or ass wandering, you must take it back to him” (Exodus 23:4). “When you see the ass of your enemy lying under its burden and would refrain from raising it, you must nevertheless raise it with him” (Ibid:5).

“If along the road you chance upon a bird’s nest, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs and the mother sitting on the fledglings or on the eggs, do not take the other with her young” (Deuteronomy 22:6).

“When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof so that you do not bring blood guilt on your house if anyone should fall from it” (Ibid:8).

For when a commandment comes to your hand in order to be fulfilled you are obliged to do it with peace, as it is written, “Seek peace and pursue it…” (Psalm 34:15). Seek it where you are and pursue it in other places as well.

Great is peace for in all of [Israel’s desert] travels it is written, “They journeyed and they set up camp.” They journeyed divided, and they set up camp divided, but when they got to Sinai, they set up camp united as one, as it is written. The Holy One said, Since Israel hates to be divided and they are lovers of peace [which they have shown] by camping as one, the time has come to give them My Torah.

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Rabbi Avi Weinstein is the Head of Jewish Studies at the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy in Kansas City.

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