Making Peace in Our Heights

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With a major
war raging in Europe, the USA weakening and becoming more dysfunctional by the
day, and China acting more aggressively than it has in recent history, it is no
wonder that many people are becoming concerned of a major global catastrophe,
the likes of which we have never experienced. In fact, the Bulletin of the
Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock is now the closest to midnight than it has
ever been since its inception in 1947. For example, at the height of the Cold
War, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the clock was set at 7 minutes to
midnight. Now, it is set at 100 seconds to midnight. Most sane people say they want
peace, yet we seem farther away from it than perhaps at any other time in human

So let’s ask
some basic questions. What is peace, where does it come from, why has it eluded
mankind from the beginning of history, and is it even achievable?

First of
all, know that peace is real, but to attain it requires serious effort. It is
written in Tehillim 34:15: סוּר מֵרָע
וַעֲשֵׂה־טוֹב בַּקֵּשׁ שָׁלוֹם וְרׇדְפֵהוּ (Turn from bad and do good; seek peace and pursue it). We are instructed
to look for peace and to pursue it. But where can it be found? It seems to be
doing a very good job at hiding itself.

A famous bronze
statue at the UN headquarters in New York City, donated in 1959 by the Soviet
Union, has the title “Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares,” as if to say that by
the efforts of the UN, world peace can be achieved. Are we to find peace in the
UN? The prophet Yeshaya foretold of a future with world peace (Yeshaya
), but he made no mention of the UN. Rather, he made it clear that
peace will come about only when the Holy Temple will be rebuilt in
Yerushalayim, when the Torah that Hashem gave to the Jewish People through
Moshe Rabbeinu will go out from Yerushalayim and when Mashiach will sit upon
his throne and judge the nations of the world.

But we are
not told to sit around and do nothing, rather to seek peace and pursue it. So
again, where can it be found?

At the
conclusion of the Shemoneh Esrei, we say the following: עֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם בִּמְרוֹמָיו הוּא יַעֲשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם עָלֵֽינוּ וְעַל
כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵל  (He who makes peace in His heights, may
He make peace upon us and upon all Yisrael). What do we mean by saying that
Hashem makes peace in His heights (Oseh shalom bimromav)? Better yet,
why mention it at all? Can’t we just ask Hashem to make peace upon us?

The Zohar (Vayikra
) gives us two explanations of the words Oseh shalom bimromav (Iyov
). The first explanation states that the “one who makes peace”
refers to Yaakov. How so? Yaakov represents tiferet [harmony, truth], a
trait which connects its two opposite “heights”—chesed [kindness,
giving] on the right and gevurah [judgment, strictness] on the left—into
a single unit called tiferet. The second interpretation states that
Hashem is the “One who makes peace.” How so? The merkavah
(heavenly chariot) is composed of four different angelic forces. Two of them
are Michael and Gavriel. Michael is the aspect of chesed with water as
his foundation, whereas Gavriel is the aspect of gevurah with fire as
his foundation. And it is the Holy One blessed be He, who makes peace between
them, in His heavenly heights, by having them both operate together in the same
merkavah. As explained in Likutei Moharan Torah 80: וּמַה הוּא הַשָּׁלוֹם? שֶׁמְּחַבֵּר תְּרֵי הֲפָכִים כְּמוֹ
שֶׁדָּרְשׁוּ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ זִכְרוֹנָם לִבְרָכָה בַּפָּסוּק: עוֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם
בִּמְרוֹמָיו כִּי זֶה הַמַּלְאָךְ מֵאֵשׁ וְזֶה מִמַּיִם שֶׁהֵם תְּרֵי הֲפָכִים
כִּי מַיִם מְכַבֶּה אֵשׁ וְהַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא עוֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם בֵּינֵיהֶם
וּמְחַבְּרָם יַחַד (And what
is peace? It is that which connects two opposites, as our Rabbis, may their
memory be for a blessing, explained from the verse, Oseh shalom bimromav,
i.e. for this angel is from fire and this [other] angel is from water, and they
are two opposites, as water extinguishes fire. And the Holy One blessed be He
makes peace between them and connects them together).

Now how does
all of this relate to us? Let us explore two important facets of peace that emerge
from this. Rebbe Nachman teaches in Likutei Moharan 33:1: הַכְּלָל הוּא שֶׁצָּרִיךְ לְבַקֵּשׁ שָׁלוֹם שֶׁיִּהְיֶה שָׁלוֹם בֵּין
יִשְׂרָאֵל וְשֶׁיִּהְיֶה שָׁלוֹם לְכָל אָדָם בְּמִדּוֹתָיו, הַיְנוּ שֶׁלֹּא
יִהְיֶה מְחֻלָּק בְּמִדּוֹתָיו וּבִמְאֹרְעוֹתָיו שֶׁלֹּא יְהֵא לוֹ חִלּוּק
בֵּין בְּטִיבוּ בֵּין בְּעָקוּ תָּמִיד יִמְצָא בּוֹ הַשֵּׁם יִתְבָּרַךְ
הַיְנוּ: בַּה’ אֲהַלֵּל דָּבָר בֵּאלֹקִים אֲהַלֵּל דָּבָר (The general rule is that it is necessary to seek peace, that
there will always be peace among Jews, and that there will be peace for each
man within his middot [character traits or attributes], that there won’t
be conflict within his middot or with respect to what happens to him,
that it should make no difference to him whether he experiences good or bad,
because always he should find Hashem, may He be blessed, in everything, i.e. ‘I
will praise Hashem for a thing that happens; I will praise G-d for a thing that
happens’ [Tehillim 56:11]). On the one hand, we should always seek peace
and especially that there would be peace among Jews. This is what we saw from Tehillim
. But on the other hand, we also learn about the two actual ingredients
needed to achieve the ultimate goal of peace among Jews (and by extension,
peace among all mankind). And what are those ingredients?

First, one
needs to be at peace internally within one’s middot. This is a deep
idea, but the general intent is what we have already learned above with respect
to Yaakov, i.e. that one’s middot are working together in harmony, are
not in conflict with other and that each one has its proper place. Practically
speaking, it means for example, that every individual needs to use his
attribute of chesed on others and his attribute of gevurah on
himself, and not the other way around. It means that he needs to learn to give
to others and to exercise self-restraint on himself, to judge every man on the
side of merit while judging himself more strictly. In summary, it means that he
has found peace within his middot, i.e. that he is a man of truth, of tiferet.

Second, one
needs to be at peace internally with what happens to him, with all of the
events of life that are beyond his control, and to realize that everything
that happens to him and around him is from his Creator and for his good. This
is the meaning of the verse from Tehillim 56:11 that we read above in
which David ha-Melech expressed praise to his Creator for everything,
whether that something emanated from the side of Hashem, i.e. compassion, mercy
and chesed, or from the side of Elokim, i.e. strictness, judgment and gevurah.
Fundamentally, it’s just a matter of perception. Everything the Creator does,
He does for our good, even things that seem otherwise. As it says in Tehillim
: טוֹב־יְיָ לַכֹּל וְרַחֲמָיו עַל־כׇּל־מַעֲשָׂיו (Hashem is good to all and his mercy is
upon all of His works).

But how do
we go about achieving this level of peace? And where does it exist?

states in Tikuna
3, 18b
: בְּרֵאשִׁית רֹא’‘שׁ בַּיִ’’ת וְרָזָא דְמִלָּה
בְּחָכְמָה יִבָּנֶה בָּיִת וּמָאן דְּבָעִי לְמֶחְזֵי לְמַלְכָּא לֵית לֵיהּ
רְשׁוּ לְמֶחְזְיֵיהּ אֶלָּא בְּבֵיתֵיהּ וְרָזָא דְמִלָּה חָכְמָה לָא
אִשְׁתְּמוֹדְעָא אֶלָּא בְּבֵיתֵיהּ
(The letters of Bereshit [In the beginning] can be rearranged to spell
two words: rosh bayit [head of the house]. And the secret of the matter
relates to the verse [Mishlei 24:3]: ‘A house [bayit] is built by
wisdom [chochmah],’ i.e. anyone who wants to see the king only has
permission to see the king in his house. And the secret of this is that chochmah
can only be recognized when it is in its house, i.e. in binah
[understanding]). In other words, we have no way of grasping chochmah,
the ‘head’ [rosh] on its own, but only when it is clothed within binah,
his palace, his ‘house’ [bayit].

This is a
really beautiful teaching because it shows us how we can achieve this second
level of inner peace. This is the true, deeper meaning of Oseh shalom
. By saying this prayer, we are acknowledging that we are not
capable of producing peace on our own. Only Hashem can produce peace bimromav,
i.e. in the heights of our own mind—chochmah and binah—to have chochmah
build its house in binah. We are asking for a miracle. And what is chochmah?
It is knowledge of Torah, supernal knowledge. But it is not enough to learn
Torah. The Torah that we learn and put into our heads must enter its house,
even as the king must dwell in his palace. And where is that house? Where is binah?
Binah is in the heart, as it says (Berachos 61a): לֵב מֵבִין (The heart
understands). So what is this peace? It is peace between our head and our
heart, between knowing and feeling, between intellect and emotions, between
right brain and left brain. It is feeling what we know to be true (and knowing
what we feel) and not having our head tell us one thing while our heart witnesses
against us. That is the true shalom bimromav that we pray for every day.

And this is
why peace will not result from any natural process, especially one orchestrated
by the so-called “United” Nations. Yes, we must put forth the effort. We must
pray. We must seek peace. We must pursue it. We must beg for it, plead to
Hashem to make peace in our heights. But at the end of the day, peace is created
through a supernatural process. And this is the deeper meaning of Bereshit
: וְנָהָר יֹצֵא מֵעֵדֶן לְהַשְׁקוֹת אֶת־הַגָּן (And a river goes out from Eden to water
the garden). The river is the channel that opens up between Eden [chochmah] and the garden [binah] to connect the two, when we cry out to Hashem in
sincerity and humility, turning one’s heart into a beautiful garden of peace.

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