Ways of Peace

In a comment on my recent post “Infinite Worth“, Raffi asked:

Hey – would you elaborate on your intriguing definition of darkhei Shalom as “walking the path of He Who makes peace”?

Vav — I’d be glad to. (Now aren’t you glad I don’t inject my sense of humor into this blog too often?)

The factoid behind Raffi’s question is that the phrase is usually taken to be pragmatic. The way I learned it in grade school was that we violate Shabbos to save non-Jews because it’s important to keep the peace lest they kill us. Similarly, there is a concept that is batted around synonymously, “mishum eivah” — because of animosity.

Despite these understandings being commonplace in discussion, they do not stand up to scrutiny. This was first brought to my attention in an email from Yeshivat Har Etzion (“Gush”) too many years ago to find, which contained notes from a lecture given by Rav Aharon Lichtenstein shlit”a. The same thesis appears in his “In The Human and Social Factor in Halakhah”, Tradition 6 (2002) pp. 89-114, made available on-line by the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education (Bar Ilan Univ.) What I write below will be based on my memory of the email in addition to the essay.

Most trivially, neither idiom is used not used exclusively where there is real risk to life or limb, but that would have to be the meaning of the phrase if it were pragmatic grounds to override Shabbos.  Mishum eiva is applied between father and child on Bava Metzia 12a; on Yuma 12b to the kohein gadol; and on Kesuvos 58b, between husband and wife. So avoiding eivah is a value of some sort detached from the value of saving people from future retaliation.

But we were looking at darkhei Shalom in particular.

There is a story in the gemara (Sukkah 53a) where David haMelekh dug deep holes into the ground as part of his preparations for the future building of the Beis haMiqdash. He dug far enough down to hit the tehom, the subterranean water, and the water came up threatening to drown the world. Achitofel wrote the name of G-d on a pot sherd and through it down the hole, thus stopping the water. He reasoned from the law of sotah, where a paragraph of the Torah that includes Hashem’s name is written on a parchment, dissolved in water (along with some dust from under the Beis haMiqdash) and given to a sotah — a married woman accused of adultery who then is found alone with the suspected paramour. Achitofel reasoned that if Hashem’s name may be erased to save one marriage, then of course it may be erased to save the entire world.

The Rama (teshuvah #11) says this is a general principle that preserving the peace is a value that can at times override prohibitions. As Rav Aharon Lichtenstein translates the relevant snippet of the responsum:

We have learned from here that it is permissible to modify [the truth] for the sake of peace, and it is permissible to violate the injunction, “Thou shalt distance thyself from falsehood.” [The consideration of peace] also overrides the biblical prohibition of “Thou shalt not do thus to the Lord thy God,” which bans the erasure of God’s Name, as is explained in the Sifri to Parashat Re’eh and counted by the Rambam and the Semag in their respective enumerations of the mitsvot. Since this is so, I say that it is also the case that [peace] overrides the prohibition of defamation; in other words, it is permissible to defame another if one’s intention is for the sake of Heaven and for a good cause, [namely,] to promote peace.

But what makes the whole thing open-and-shut is the Rambam’s explanation of how we are to relate to non-Jews and why (Hilkhos Melakhim 10:12):

אַפִלּוּ הַגּוֹיִים צִוּוּ חֲכָמִים לְבַקַּר חוֹלֵיהֶם, וְלִקְבֹּר מֵתֵיהֶם עִם מֵתֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וּלְפַרְנַס עֲנִיֵּיהֶם בִּכְלַל עֲנִיֵּי יִשְׂרָאֵל, מִפְּנֵי דַּרְכֵּי שָׁלוֹם: הֲרֵי נֶאֱמָר “טוֹב-ה’ לַכֹּל; וְרַחֲמָיו, עַל-כָּל-מַעֲשָׂיו” (תהילים קמה:ט), וְנֶאֱמָר “דְּרָכֶיהָ דַרְכֵי-נֹעַם; וְכָל-נְתִיבוֹתֶיהָ שָׁלוֹם” (משלי ג,יז).

[Not only Jews and geirei toshav (resident aliens),] even for non-Jews our sages commanded to visit their sick, bury their dead [as] with the Jewish dead, support their poor among the Jewish poor, because of darkhei Shalom. For it says, “Hashem is good to all, and His Mercy is on all that He made.” (Tehillim 145 “Ashrei” v. 9). And it says, “[The Torah]’s ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.” (Mishlei 3:14, also said when returning the Torah to the aron)

The Rambam’s prooftexts show that darkhei Shalom is:

1- Imitatio dei. This is why I have been capitalizing the “S” in “darkhei Shalom“. I believe from this perspective, we are actually using Shalom / Peace in its use as an appelation for G-d. To go in His Peaceful Way.

Note how the kindnesses listed are behaviors we learn from Hashem’s examples:

ואמר רבי חמא ברבי חנינא מאי דכתיב (דברים יג:ה) אחרי ה’ אלהיכם תלכו וכי אפשר לו לאדם להלך אחר שכינה והלא כבר נאמר (ד:כד) כי ה’ אלהיך אש אוכלה הוא אלא להלך אחר מדותיו של הקב”ה מה הוא מלביש ערומים דכתיב (בראשית ג:כא) ויעש ה’ אלהים לאדם ולאשתו כתנות עור וילבישם אף אתה הלבש ערומים הקב”ה ביקר חולים דכתיב (בראשית יח:א) וירא אליו ה’ באלוני ממרא אף אתה בקר חולים הקב”ה ניחם אבלים דכתיב (בראשית כה:יא) ויהי אחרי מות אברהם ויברך אלהים את יצחק בנו אף אתה נחם אבלים הקב”ה קבר מתים דכתיב (דברים לד:ו) ויקבר אותו בגיא אף אתה קבור מתים:

And Rabbi Chama beRabbi Chanina said: Why is it written, “You shall walk following Hashem your G-d”? (Daverim 13:5) It is possible for a person to walk following the Shechinah? Doesn’t it already say, “For Hashem your G-d is [like] a consuming Fire?” (4:24) Rather, it means to walk following the attributes of the Holy One blessed be He [as He shows Himself to us]. Just as He clothes the naked, as is written: “And Hashem E-lokim made for Adam and his wife cloaks of leather and dressed them (Bereshis 3:21) So too you should cloth the naked. HQBH visited the sick, as is written: “And Hashem appeared to [Avraham after his beris milah] in Oak-woods of Mamrei” (Bereishis 18:1) So you you should visit the sick. HQBH comforted mourners, as is written: “And it was after Avraham’s death, and G-d blessed his son Yitzchaq” (Bereishis 25:11) So too you should comfort mourners. HQBH buried the dead, as is written: “And He buried [Moshe] in the valley” (Devarim 34:6). So too you should bury the dead.

Sotah 14a

2- Darkei Shalom is the defining feature of halakhah.

Far from what I was taught as a youth, darkhei Shalom (and even mishum eivah, the avoidance of animosity) are not mere accommodations of an imperfect reality, but speak to the heart of Torah.

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  1. Raffi says:

    WhaWhaWhaaaat? I see you making the case for your interpretation, but I do not see you explaining at all why it can’t be the commonly understood one (aside from one brief comment). Maybe darkei shalom DOES mean keeping the peace lest they kill us. Maybe Rambam’s prooftext indicates that halacha would never put us into a situation where our lives are at risk. I’m not sure how the gemara in sukkah disproves that. It only supports the importance of shalom, not your particular interpretation of darkei shalom.

    A vous.

    • micha says:

      A value called “darkhei Shalom” which the Rambam derives from tov Hashem lakol and from vekhol nesivoseha shalom — from verses that describe Hashem’s ways and the Torah’s nature (respectively). That’s not a discussion of putting our lives at risk, but of imitating G-d and acting the way the Torah calls on us to.

      And the Rambam uses darkhei Shalom as the basis of a list of mitzvos that the gemara says are to be learned from Hashem’s example — again, a call to imitate G-d.

      There is really no other way to understand the cited Rambam.

      And the Rama invokes the idea as a general rule, including a number of contexts that have nothing to do avoiding life-threatening danger. (As the gemara does with mishum eivah.) Does a kohein get the first aliyah (Gitin 59b) in order to prevent people from killing each other over it? That too is “darkhei Shalom“.

      I see R’ Aharon Lichtenstein’s conclusion as inescapable.

      • Raffi says:

        “A value called “darkhei Shalom” which the Rambam derives from tov Hashem lakol and from vekhol nesivoseha shalom – from verses that describe Hashem’s ways and the Torah’s nature (respectively). That’s not a discussion of putting our lives at risk, but of imitating G-d and acting the way the Torah calls on us to.”

        Says who? Drakheiha darkhei noam is used sometimes to indicate that G-d wouldn’t command us do something painful or unpleasant. That could simply be about our this-worldly concerns, not about G-d’s way of doing things.

        “There is really no other way to understand the cited Rambam.”

        You have a long way to go to prove that as conclusively as you have stated it. Not that I am averse to the interpretation – I just don’t think you’ve made a strong enough case.

        “Does a kohein get the first aliyah (Gitin 59b) in order to prevent people from killing each other over it?

        No, but it’s certainly not unreasonable to suggest that these rules are there to prevent people from getting upset, jealous, petty, etc., and to “keep the order.” Again, I don’t think you have sufficiently proven that it is NOT meant this way.

        • micha says:

          You asked why I defined darkhei Shalom as “walking the path of the One Who made peace” and yet haven’t yet explained why (1) the Rambam’s derivation of “tov Hashem lakol” and
          (2) his applying “darkhei Shalom” to the very same mitzvos the gemara tells us we learn from Hashem’s example in the chumash
          do not reflect just such a translation.

          You only attacked the other parts of Rav Aharon’s argument that darkhei Shalom is a primary value. But you still haven’t touched the core of the discussion.

          • Raffi says:

            Sorry, I don’t hear it. Seems to me the Rambam could simply be saying that we do these acts of chesed (the classical acts of chesed as illustrated by the gemara in Sotah) even for goyim, because of darkei shalom, i.e., to avoid getting pummeled. (The Rambam you cite is, after all, located in a discussion of how we treat outsiders, not how to act like G-d in general.)

          • micha says:

            The Rambam Rav Aharon Lichtenstein cites says that how we treat others is dictated by darkhei Shalom and his proof of that is that HQBH does so.

            As I said, it’s so open and shut, I don’t see what exchange there is to have on the subject.

            (Aside from his other proofs.)

  2. Raffi says:

    The Rambam Rav Aharon Lichtenstein cites says that how we treat others is dictated by darkhei Shalom and his proof of that is that HQBH does so.

    No, it isn’t. That is your (or his) interpretation of the Rambam’s proof. The Rambam brings two pesukim. YOU are the one who is saying that these pesukim are brought as expressions of imitatio dei.

    Furthermore, as I stated, the Rambam is not engaged in a discussion about “how we treat others;” he is specifically discussing how we treat outsiders. Of course they are intertwined, but they are nonetheless different topics.

    I regret that you are apparently unable to see any other perspectives here such that in your eyes it is entirely “open and shut.”

  1. August 19, 2018 – ח׳ באלול תשע״ח

    […] Truth and peace often conflict, as anyone who has struggled with saying an unwanted truth tactfully can attest. In halakhah, the pursuit of peace can justify a misleading presentation of the truth (shinui es ha’ames) but not outright lying. (See more in the post “Ways of Peace“.) […]

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