Confrontation and Peace
It is important to seek peace, but that doesn't mean we should run away from all conflicts and confrontations. In this week's Torah Portion, Pinchas acted very strongly and confrontationally against those who were leading the Jewish people into self-destructive behavior. Yet, the Torah goes out of its way to refer to him as a descendant of Aaron the priest, who was known as a great peacemaker. The sages explain that this comes to teach us that Pinchas' confrontational behavior was actually an act of peace that staved off a disaster. The lesson here is that sometimes the true way to restore peace and harmony isn't merely to look the other way at improper behavior, but to be willing to confront it.
In our story, some kids discover that sometimes the only way to peace is by standing up for what's right.
What a day for a class trip to the beach. The tide was high, the waves were perfect. It was warm, but not too warm, and just sunny enough to tan without getting burned. Michael and his friends, Brad and Steve, had just finished spreading out their blanket, and armed with sunscreen, Frisbee, and picnic lunch were lying back and settling in for a nice relaxing day of sun and fun, when suddenly SPLASH!! They felt like they had been hit by a tidal wave.
"What in the world...!?" The guys jumped up in shock, just in time to see the running feet of Keith - one of the rowdy kids in the class - and a couple of his buddies. They were playing beach tag and were wildly chasing each other around with buckets, seemingly not the least bit concerned where the water they were throwing at each other was landing. The guys were annoyed, but tried to shrug it off, figuring the 'storm' would soon pass.
And pass it did, but unfortunately it passed into a sandstorm, as now the rowdy kids were flinging handfuls of sand in every direction, running and laughing like wild hyenas.
"This isn't right," declared Mike, brushing off his now sandy sandwich. "Those guys are ruining it for everyone."
His friends all shook their heads in ready agreement, but started to get nervous when they saw Mike get up and move determinedly in the direction of where the wild kids were camped out.
"Hey where are you going?" asked Steve tensely.
"Where do you think I'm going? I'm going to tell those guys to control themselves. They can't just run around like nobody else exists, and I'm also going to tell them to turn down their blaster. It's disturbing everybody, probably even the fish, and making the whole beach shake."
Mike had only taken a few steps when he felt a tug on his elbow. "Hey Mike, wait a minute," pleaded Brad. "Why start up with them? It will just make things worse. Aren't you the one who's always telling us how important the Torah says it is to be peaceful? Don't you want to have a peaceful time at the beach?"
Michael thought about his friend's words, although it was hard to think about anything with the music blasting so loudly. It was true, peace was important... Then he remembered something they had learned in Torah class, about how Pinchas was considered a peacemaker even though the way he acted seemed on the surface anything but peaceful.
"Brad, you're right - it is important to be at peace. But do you call this peace? Look around you, everybody here is totally miserable - all because of those couple of wild kids who have decided they own the beach. Sitting here and suffering isn't called making peace. You can come with me or stay put, but I'm going to go and do a little peacemaking of a different kind."
With that, the boy marched off.
Mike's friends held their breath and watched from a safe distance as the boy boldly approached Keith and his friends and tried to explain calmly but firmly that they had to change their tune. At first, they tried to laugh him off, but Mike persisted, and told them if they kept it up, he would report them to the teacher. Eventually Mike's requests, pleas, and threats hit their mark, and his tall stature and broad muscular shoulders didn't hurt his cause either.
The guys turned down their music, and were careful to restrict their wild games to the end of the beach where no one was sitting. It became like a whole new - and peaceful - beach. Everyone relaxed, and even Keith and his crowd seemed happier to be off on their own. All thanks to the boy who understood that like Pinchas, sometimes you have to be a warrior for true peace.
Q. How did Michael's friends first feel when Michael said he was going to go try to get the wild kids to calm down?
A. They felt like it was more important to be peaceful than to confront the boys.
Q. How did they feel in the end?
A. They saw how just letting the other kids run all over them wasn't called peace, and how speaking up made it more peaceful for everybody.
Q. Do you think Michael was acting peacefully by going over to the boys? Why or why not?
A. Michael valued peace, and wanted it for everybody. But the way the wild kids were acting made peace impossible. Going over to them and speaking strongly was actually an act to restore peace since he was trying to create a situation in which everyone could live harmoniously where there previously wasn't one.
Q. Why did his friends try to stop him?
A. They were under the mistaken belief that to act peacefully meant to avoid confrontation and asserting one's rights no matter what. While we should try to be flexible and willing to tolerate discomfort for the sake of peace, there is a point when that discomfort itself indicates a lack of peace, and therefore action is called for to change things for the better.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. What, if anything, is the difference between peace seeking and passivity?
A. Peace seeking indicates an attempt to reach a state of harmony between two parties, wherein each is able to coexist with the other, at best in friendly cooperation, but at least without being actively harangued by one another. To reach this harmonious equilibrium may often require asserting oneself, even confrontationally to attain one's bottom line needs. Passivity, on the other hand, is a state defined by the lack of taking action to improve even a harmful or destructive situation. Sometimes assertiveness, and not passivity, is called for to restore true harmony - or peace to a relationship.
Q. How can this principle be applied in the pursuit of inner-peace?
A. A person feels a lack of peace within himself when his values and his actions don't coincide. Here too, inner peace will not be restored by simply, passively remaining with his inner contradictions, but by confronting the failings within himself, and 'going to war' if need be to improve them.