Counting the Omer with Rabbi Amy Eilberg
Day 40 — Leading Others to Peace
Ma’amido al Ha’Shalom • מעמידו על השלום
By Rabbi Amy Eilberg, Los Altos, CA
Like it or not, conflict is a presence in our lives. Though we might prefer it were otherwise, discord arises when human beings are in relationship with one another. We disagree — sometimes fiercely, we irritate one another, and we hurt one another — sometimes inadvertently, and sometimes with real desire to harm. What is the sacred way to engage with others in times of conflict? How does our Mussar work guide us in these difficult moments?
Sacred conflict engagement requires us to attend to several key middot from our practice. At times the path of wisdom is to practice sh’tikah (silence), as difficult as this is when we are emotionally involved. This may mean to listen for a time without responding, bringing mindful attention to our own pain and anger, in order not to speak reactively and hurtfully. In our silence, we offer our full attention as a gift of kavod (honor) toward the other. When it is time for us to speak, we seek to do so with chesed (loving-kindness), calling to mind the connection we have to the other and our sincere desire for the other’s well-being. Before and while we speak, we reach for anavah (humility), reminding ourselves (as challenging as this can be) that our own perspective is not the absolute truth.
In every situation of conflict in which we are involved, we can engage in hitlamdut (intentional learning) practice. During this moment of tension and pain, we are practicing and seeking to learn — about the issue at hand, about the other person, and about ourselves. This is an opportunity for us to learn and grow, even when it hurts.
All of this applies when we are participants in the conflict. The Mishnah’s language of “leading others to peace” also invites us to be people who bring a peaceful, loving and nonreactive presence when we encounter discord among others.
How does the practice of peacemaking relate to our relationship with Torah? We cannot grow in wisdom while cultivating contentious relationships with others. If we insist on winning all disagreements, we have utterly failed to embody the truth of Torah, for “her ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace.” (Proverbs 3:17) If we are to make Torah a source of blessing in our lives and in the world, we must do so as students of Aaron, lovers of peace and pursuers of peace. (Avot 1:12)
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