Seeds of Peace
How Parashat Re'eh illuminates the necessity of peace for growth of a nation.
Provided by American Jewish World Service, pursuing global justice through grassroots change.
In Parashat Re'eh, the Israelites are given intimation of the shape of their future society across the Jordan River. The portrait of the Israelites' world-to-come generally radiates an exuberant sense of well-being--reflecting a society contentedly organized and functioning smoothly.
The desert nomads are regaled with how they will yearly process to a central site for the dedication of their agricultural bounty. Here, they will "rejoice before the Lord your God with your sons and daughters and with your male and female slaves…" And if the way is too long to travel with such plenty, the pilgrim will exchange his bounty for money to spend at God's designated site on "anything you may desire" (Deuteronomy 12:12, 14:23, and 14:25-26).
In this halcyon world, the bounty of the land will be mirrored in a generous social order: Debts will be remitted and slaves freed each seventh year--sent off with gifts from their masters "out of the flock, threshing floor, and vat." The "stranger, the fatherless, and the widow" will celebrate the festivals with each household. And, if God's commands are hearkened: "There shall be no needy among you…" (Deuteronomy 15:1, 15:12-13, 16:14, and 15:4). With these tantalizing promises of communal celebration and a caring civil society, Parashat Re'eh holds out the promise of idyll, plenty, and joy.
There are, however, fissures veining the serene portrait. Until the people have "come to the resting place, to the allotted haven," this bountiful existence will not be fully realized. The world of festive in-gatherings and pilgrimages will not be established until God "grants you safety from all your enemies around you and you live in security" (Deuteronomy 12: 9-10). Realizing the promise of the well-ordered, abundant society that our parashah describes depends thus not only on arrival in the land, but also on reaching a state of peace therein.
Ushering in Peace
The Israelites accordingly are commanded to eliminate sources of conflict--both external and internal--in settling their new world. They are to destroy all vestiges of Canaanite idol worship. Israelite cities that have strayed into idolatrous practice must be razed, and false prophets are to be cut down (Deuteronomy 12:2-3; 13:2-18). Until they have emerged from this period of destruction, the parashah seems to imply, the Israelites will not realize the golden promise of their thriving society.
This approach to achieving peace and stability--the total eradication of conflict through violence--is of course understood today to be facile, cruel, and ultimately unwise. Conflict cannot simply be excised tumor-like from society, and such blunt efforts to do so will likely only bring on its metastasization. Indeed, we have come to understand that conflict's debilitating effects linger long after formal hostilities have ended.