A TIME TO SEEK, A TIME TO LOSE

By Rabbi David Mivasair
December, 2000

"Bakesh shalom ve-radfeihu -- seek peace and pursue it." I have held this teaching from Psalm 34 as one of the guiding principles of my life ever since I was a teen confronted with the U.S. war in Vietnam. Our rabbis teach, and I believe, that becoming a partner with the Holy One in making Shalom is a mitzvah unlike all others. The mitzvah of Shalom is so important that we can't passively wait for an opportunity to fulfill it. With the words 'bakesh' and 'redof' Torah calls upon us to 'kum ve-aseh,' to take the initiative, actively going out of our way to seek and pursue Shalom.

Living here in Yerushalayim, with a maelstrom of deadly conflict swirling around me daily, the mitzvah to seek and pursue Shalom places great demands on me. Yet, because of the complexity and fluidity of the current situation, I'm finding it very difficult to know how to 'bakesh shalom ve-radfeihu' precisely at this time when it is so immediately urgent.

Out of not knowing how to act for Shalom in the present situation, I believe I've begun to understand a different teaching, one that I've never seriously considered before. Kohelet, in the scroll of Ecclesiastes, offered the wisdom he gained over a long and full life. Using the very same word as did the Psalm, Kohelet observed, 'Eit le-vakesh; eit le-abed - a time to seek; a time to lose'. I understand this now to mean that - eit le-vakesh - there are times to actively seek to fulfill a goal or a vision. When the way is clear, or at least clear enough, we indeed must seek and pursue it. However, Kohelet is teaching that there are also times of eit le-abed when we lose the way of seeking itself. The situation changes beyond recognition. Once-realistic aspirations dissolve into confusion. We are wise to accept, at least for the time being, that we are lost in our seeking.

Kohelet's wisdom, I believe, is to hold on to both poles of this dichotomy at the same time. We must not allow the experience of being lost to negate our commitment to seek nevertheless. Religious seekers engaged with this world must keep faith in their vision even when the way to seek and pursue it is obscured. Appallingly, I cannot see any realistic, near-term way out of the current tragic violence. During the first two shocking weeks of the conflict, I went to demonstrations and meetings to end it. Now I don't know what to do. I think it will go on for quite some time.

Still I know that one day all this fighting will end. Both we and our Palestinian neighbours will be here together for generations to come. Sooner or later, we will find a way to acknowledge each other's humanity and live together in true Shalom. It is the only way. That is why, after the horrible violence on Yom Kippur, I went with Rabbis for Human Rights to Rambam Hospital in Haifa to do bikkur holim with people - Jews and Arabs - wounded in the fighting. Later we travelled to the lower Gallilee village of Arrabe to support a bereaved Arab Israeli family whose 17- year-old peace-activist son was shot and killed by an Israeli border guard. I've participated in dialogues and am involved with the Center for Jewish-Arab Education. In mid-November, when olives needed to be harvested or they would drop out of the trees and rot on the ground, I spent a day in Harres, a beseiged West Bank Palestinian village, to help protect the local people from Jewish settler violence and enable them to pick at least a part of their crop. More significant than the olives we picked were the conversations we had and the simple human respect and decency that we shared.

Despite the present time being an "eit le-abed" when the next moves toward peace are lost and so hard to identify, we cannot give up the vision. We are still called upon to "bakesh shalom ve-radfeihu" and to seek and pursue the Shalom that the future holds in store for us all.
 
 
 
 

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