What does it mean to be a pursuer of peace? To understand this commandment, which is a mensch’s baseline desire, we must define both the words, pursue and peace. To pursue can mean to actively look for, chase after, try to find, and harness. One of the most famous commandments in the Torah, which informs the Jewish over-representation in every ism you can think of, says, “Tzedek tzedek tirdof,” which means, “Justice, justice, you will pursue.”
Jews have always pursued justice. Think capitalism, communism, feminism, anti-racism. Every single ism, for the good or even for the misguided, has had a Jew at the helm. I’m looking at you, Gloria Steinem, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heshel, and Emma Goldman. We pursue or actively seek out societal wrongs and try to establish justice and peace. Sometimes we miscalculate, but we never stop looking for, pursuing, and searching for what is right!
Rabbi Shimon Ben Gamliel taught, “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. Judge with the justice of truth and peace within your gates.” Where there is justice, there will be peace. And wherever there is peace there is justice.
Aaron, the high priest, and Moses’s brother was called a rodef shalom, a pursuer of peace. We read that he was a man who “loved peace, pursued peace, loved people, and brought them closer to Torah.” When he passed away, it is said, “And when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, all the house of Israel wept for Aaron thirty days.” Aaron was an utterly beloved mensch, who had creative ways of pursuing peace between human beings, and as such he was loved beyond measure.
And what of the word peace, or shalom in Hebrew? Shalom shares an etymological root with shelemut, which means wholeness, completeness, and perfection.The first Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel, Rav Kook, wrote, “People mistakenly believe that peace in the world means that everyone will share common viewpoints and think the same way. So when they see scholars disagreeing about an issue, this appears to be the exact opposite of peace. True peace, however, comes precisely through the proliferation of divergent views. When all of the various angles and sides of an issue are exposed, and we are able to clarify how each one has its place — that is true peace.”
This quote aligns with a core Momentum value of “Unity without uniformity.” Pursuing true peace can only be found within its paradigm. The Midrash, the ancient rabbinic interpretation of scripture, says, “Peace when you enter, peace when you leave, and peaceful relations with everyone.”
We yearn for a state of peace, wholeness, and completion within ourselves, our homes, our communities, and ultimately the world. Our pursuit of wholeness in all of these domains makes us mensches, and sometimes a mensch understands that the goal of peace means putting aside personal preferences or opinions. A mensch prefers to do right rather than to be right, to create a feeling of wholeness that includes others, rather than only being concerned with themselves. It requires humility, and that does not mean thinking less of yourself. Rather it can mean thinking about yourself less!
In Proverbs, when we learn about Torah, we are taught, “Her ways are pleasant ways, and all of her paths are shalom (peace),” and the Talmud explains, “The entire Torah is for the sake of the ways of shalom.”
If you or your child search out opportunities for peacemaking, you can become righteous yourself and a true gift to your peers. Being the peacemaker amongst peers for kids and adults alike can deepen our ability to see two sides of a story and offer perspective in problem solving. This plays out in the schoolyard and in the boardroom, in the kitchen and even in the bedroom.
One excellent way we can ask our school-aged children to practice this mensch-like mitzvah is to be on the watch for problems among peers. We can ask them to try to make peace between fighting friends – to go to both sides just like Aaron did, and to attempt to persuade them to make up with their friends.
Aaron had a little trick he used to do, which is something we can adopt at any age. If, for example, he knew two people were not speaking to one another, he might play them off each other like this: he might say to one of the people, whom he knew did not speak to Person A, “Don’t you think Person B has beautiful hair?”
The other person might say, “Yeah, so what? I can’t stand them.”
Then Aaron would go to Person B and say, “Person A says that you have beautiful hair!” This allows Person A to think that Person B is saying kind things about them. So, the next time Person A sees Person B, they are less likely to think as harshly of them. Then, Aaron might say to Person B, “Don’t you think Person A is very generous?” and Person B might say, “Yeah, they are, but so what? I can’t stand them!”
Then, the next time Person B sees Person A, they are less likely to be as hostile as usual given that they both said something nice about the other. Aaron might even approach both people, saying that the other wanted to make peace, so that they might find their way back to one another. This is not an outright lie because Aaron assumed that in their heart, all people do want peace.
This is not a lie at all. This is the absolute truth. Because a mensch is acting with the soul first and our souls yearn for peace. We wish to pursue it. To create it. To enable it. A mensch is a rodef shalom. Even if it doesn’t come naturally, even if it is outside of our inherent nature, it makes us the sort of people that other people love. And that is always the final epitaph and ultimate statement of “mensch-iness.”