These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Do scholars increase peace in the world?

Posted on May 13, 2010 by Mosheh

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Hebrew has traditionally been written without vowels, allowing us freedom to make connection between different words with the same constantans but different pronunciations.

Rabbi Elazar said in the name of Rabbi Hanina: “Scholars increase peace throughout the world” (and what is the scriptural proof of this?) for it is said in Isaiah: “All your children shall be taught of Hashem, and great shall be the peace of your children” (but the text says “children,” not “scholars”!) So do not read banayikh (your children) but rather bonayikh (your builders) and scholars are the true builders of the ideal of peace!

What do these interpretations have in common and what can we learn from them? How do we increase peace in the world? What are the qualities of builders, children, and those who really understand have in common for this goal? What is new here that we do not already know?

As in any real teaching, there is nothing new, but perhaps something we already know but need to see more clearly.

Perhaps those with knowledge, those who really want to build something, need to somehow be like children. But, if so, what kind of a child quality are we looking for here? Is it of a 2 year old, 5, 10, 15? Is it naiveté or curiosity, ignorance, or wonder, optimism or hope? What can those who are younger offer those who are older?

Perhaps it has nothing to do with age. Perhaps, instead, it is the relationship of a child to a parent. There is some interesting research on this subject. If you’ve ever read an introduction to psychology text you may remember studies about monkeys and attachment. Before the field of psychology had strict ethics oversight, psychologists conducted experiments where they separated infant monkeys from their mothers to see what effect this would have. They also compared these infants, to those raised with mothers, and to infants raised with cloth dolls in the shape/size of a mother. What they found was that those raised with the dolls were much less healthy than those with a mother, and they clung onto their soft/comforting dolls for dear life. The ones raised in isolation were even more sickly, and sometimes died in infancy.

On the other hand, modern research (supported by my parents’ frequent reminders) tells us that parents generally, and naturally, love their children much more than children love their parents. Perhaps there is something about the act of intense and prolonged caring and giving which creates a very intense bond. As teenagers, we may feel bored or annoyed by our parents, as adults we may move away with a desire to explore the world by ourselves. However, our parents miss us more than we often remember.

It’s an odd combination; we are dependent on our parents for each morsel and day of food in the first years of life. Shouldn’t we naturally, fully, and overwhelmingly feel thankful? And yet, in the end, our parents’ love for us may appear stronger, and we need to remind ourselves to call and visit when we loose ourselves in our adult lives.

This is something to think about both as one heads of to a year abroad, and as one is about to return home. As I am coming to a close of a year of learning Torah and a visit home I am thinking a lot about how can I actually direct my studies to something concrete in the world? How can I learn to be a better son to my parents, how can I support them as they struggle to take care of my grandmother who is recovering from hip replacement surgery and dealing with Parkinson’s? How much time and how do I spend it with my parents, with my grandmother, and how do I do that while also continuing my studies and work. How do I apply what I have tried so hard to learn to build something productive outside myself in all the places I walk?

Perhaps a child (in relationship to a parent) is a reminder to us of the kind of caring that is necessary to do tikkun in this world (as opposed to simply ruling over it as some translations render it in Genesis). This is some kind of form of caring that is both natural (our parents gave us life after all), requires hard work, and some subduing of independence. For those of us privileged to live in the developed world, our parents, communities, the world, life itself, and what some call G-d, have nourished and sustained us each and every day of our lives. Sometimes we may even remember this and feel thankful. At the same time, as we grow older we encounter challenges, pain, disappointment, and suffering. We see the imperfection of the world and struggle to maintain our optimism and child-like love for life. We almost have no choice but to learn.

However, I want to say something very strongly, and with some sadness: knowledge is very far from constructive in and of itself. We can see this most blatantly with the development of nuclear physics: both power plants, maybe good; and the atomic bomb, possibly genocidal. Our creation myth also describes this process in the very first days of Genesis where ingesting from the Tree of Knowledge, lead to pain and suffering (though I would also say necessary maturity, responsibility, and growth).

So how do we ingest knowledge in a way that makes fertile ground to grow? As a child to my parents I am pained by their pain. There is nothing like watching one’s parent cry. In a similar way, we need to have some openness to be pained by the larger human community. As a child to my parents, I am aware of how much has been gifted me, and also how much hope invested in me. The same is in relationship with my teachers, friends, and maybe in relationship to the gift of life itself. I feel responsible, and it really matters. There is so much to be fixed in the world, and so much to be appreciated.

Consequently, to really build the world up (and not just with sky scrapers), there may be many qualities we need to revive from our childhood: curiosity without fear; love without holding back; the ability to ask relevant questions in the face of those who do not want to answer (why, why, why?); hard work and openness to the possibility of improvement without being limited by past failures (just watch a child learning to walk); and the ability to do this from a place of wonder (like a child exploring the world) because no matter how much we have already seen the reality of each day is unknown and can be laded with possibility.