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Vayeira(Genesis 18-22)

Real Peace

I forget the number, but studies show average American teenagers have seen hundreds of murders on TV.

As bad as this sounds, that's not the worst news.

They've seen love stories, too.

By the time anyone with a TV gets married they have seen enough "happy endings" to make even the most cynical groom believe that all he has to do is kiss his bride in the morning and they will live happily ever after.

Action and romance movies train us to believe ridiculous things. Like murders only occur when gloomy music is playing in the background. I first learned how dangerous this "training" was when I was mugged in Los Angeles to the wrong background music.

People raised on this fodder believe dark music precedes bad things and that all marriages end in an argument. Happily married couples never argue, according to Hollywood, and couples that have even the slightest dispute are in big trouble.

For some reason, even couples who have good marriages feel they need to protect their children from seeing their parents tackle thorny issues. "Not in front of the kids" is the parenting mantra for countless Westerners, in the vain hope that the children will never see an argument and therefore think they are happily married.

A careful reader of the Torah would have a hard time coming to that conclusion. I should add that no surveyor of married couples would believe that either. All people who are happily married argue. In fact, up to a point, there is a direct correlation between the amount of arguing and the amount of happiness in a marriage.

Anything meaningful can never be finished. Anything that is meaningful will always need more work. You never get to the end.

This point is made frighteningly clear in this week's Torah portion. Abraham and Sarah, how should I say it, "go at it" but good.

The basic story is there for you to read but the outline is this: God informs Abraham that he is going to have a child. Sarah overhears and finds this rather amusing, being that she is "well advanced in years." Sarah remarks to herself how odd, after all these years and how "worn out" she is. On top of that, she notes, Abraham is pretty old too!

God finds Sarah's words a little, ummmm, let's say, out of line, and tells Abraham. For God, nothing is too difficult. How could Sarah doubt Him?

However, when God tells Abraham what Sarah said, He changes Sarah's words a little. Instead of what she really said, He tells him that she said, "Sarah was too old" (Genesis 18:13.)

Rashi, the pre-eminent Torah commentator, explains that, for peace, God changed Sarah's words.

Well, you can just imagine what happens next. Abraham had just been told by God that Sarah was, to say politely, lacking. Picture if you will, God came and told you about some indiscretion your spouse had committed. There you have Sarah and Abraham, a long-married couple, "going at it," and this was no discussion about the virtues of Plato's philosophy. No, the argument they had could be summed up like this:

"Yes, you did."

"No, I didn't."

"Yes, you did."

"No, I didn't."

I know I shouldn't say this, but this is not what I would call, deep.

Before I go on to the lesson, I want to mention how absolutely riveting and meaningful this is. Rabbi Nachum Braverman has a cute line about this. "You want to know which couples in a restaurant have been married the longest? See who is talking the least."

After a few years, we pretty much know who our spouses are. And we also give up trying to sway them on issues we know we have tried before. We tend to given up after the first round. And that's not a healthy marriage. Abraham and Sarah were married for decades and they never gave up on trying to help each other see the truth.

Nothing in life that is meaningful is ever finished. Marriage is meaningful.

OK, back to the story. Those who have been reading the Torah all the way through will have some troubling questions right about now. For one, in last week's Torah portion (Genesis 17:15-17), God tells Abraham that he is going to have a child (very similar to this week's story) and Abraham finds it so funny he falls over!

Pretty funny, heh? Not as humorous as the reaction of Sarah, who laughed only to herself. So, Abraham found it pretty funny and hard to believe that he who was 100 years old could have a child. Yet, God doesn't go to Sarah and tell her about Abraham's apparent disbelief. But He does tell Abraham when Sarah is the one who is lacking.

Not only that, but God changed Sarah's words, we are told, for peace. What peace? Because of what God told Abraham, I wouldn't say a war broke out, but I wouldn't call it peace either.

Better still, if God wants Sarah to believe it's possible for Him to give her a baby, God need say nothing and within a few months, Sarah will pretty much figure it out on her own.

Not only that, but when has it been the way of God to tell a husband the failings of his wife? I doubt many of us could survive for long if God told our spouses what we were really thinking. Anyone who has been married for more than about 10 minutes knows what I mean.

To sum up: For peace, God changed Sarah's words, but wouldn't it have been better to have not said anything?

 

* * *

 

REAL PEACE

There is no peace between the United States of America and New Zealand. I hope this news doesn't mean that we start landing troops on their beaches.

There is no peace, but there is no war either. There is nothing. You don't have peace with your bank manager, nor with the plumber or maid.

Peace is not a lack of conflict. The fact that we don't argue doesn't mean we have peace. Peace is the coming together of minds.

"Peace now" is as absurd a statement as "agree now."

Interestingly, for peace you have to agree, even if you are both wrong.

It is possible to have peace even though you both have the wrong beliefs. When both Abraham and Sarah believed it was not possible to have children, they had peace. And therefore God did not tell Sarah that Abraham did not believe (in Chapter 17.)

Only when Abraham came to believe it was possible and Sarah did not, then they no longer had peace. At that point, therefore, God came and told Abraham, "You don't have peace. Talk to your wife."

If you want to have peace you have to work out your differences.

God not only changed Sarah's words for peace, He told Abraham for peace.

 

* * *

 

LYING AND PEACE

So, why then did God change Sarah's words?

Let me tell you my favorite joke:

Doctor to patient: "I am sorry to tell you, you only have three months to live."

Patient: "Can I get a second opinion?"

Doctor: "Sure, you are ugly too."

Rarely do spouses fall out because of an argument over paint.

"Let's paint the room blue?"

"No, I prefer pink."

"What's wrong with blue?"

"Blue reminds me of your mother, and you know how she's got awful taste. I think that's where you got it from."

This argument will last years, and whatever paint color is chosen will not resolve the issues.

When we are arguing, we can't add "You're too old." It doesn't help resolve the issue because it has nothing to do with the issue. It will take us away from peace because it doesn't help us resolve our differences.

 

* * *

 

CONCLUSION

I would like to finish with this one thought: Peace comes through the resolving of issues. This is usually a distressful process, whether with spouses, families, friends or even with countries and cultures.

I believe the world is engaged in its current conflict over real issues and that, maybe, this is very different than previous conflicts, which were primarily over money.

If this is so, our future is bright.

Please God, this will lead to peace, real peace.

 

* * *

 

BRAINSTORMING QUESTIONS TO PONDER

Question 1: Do you think the world is closer to real peace than 100 years ago?

Question 2: Are there things you don't like to talk about?

Question 3: When we say, "peace be upon you - Shalom Aleichem" what do we mean?

Published: October 16, 2006

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Visitor Comments: 3

(3) Michal Evenari, November 10, 2008 4:45 PM

I mostly liked your joke

I laughed heartily about your joke with the Doctor. And I liked the discussion of the couple about colours and the awful taste. Question 1: No! Question 2: No! Question 3: "Hashem be with you! May He fill you with the peace only He can give!" - You found a new reader! - ty

(2) YELKOPBA, March 10, 2007 11:24 PM

want to be peace maker

People mostly are found of talking about equal right and justice but tend to forget the real thing which is PEACE without which the world will never be a better place.

(1) DavidBrambila, November 10, 2006 4:57 AM

healthy arguing is positve

I remember as an adult being proud of the fact that i never heard my parents argue, in faact when i shared that with thers the responce would be something like "what a legacy".
truth be said, when i got married my wife started to solve our diferences while raising her voice, i thought my marriage was over. it took me years to understand that there is souch thing as "healthy arguing". i did receive many blessings from my parents, who are celebrating their 50th aniversary this year, but no arguments wasn't one of them.

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