The most elevated blessing, the Priestly Blessing (Birkat Kohanim), reaches its highest point in the words, “May the Lord lift up His countenance to you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:25). The blessing of peace is the epitome of all blessings, since peace is the highest level of existence. And on this our Sages said, “God’s Name is ‘Peace'” (Shabbat 10b).
This “peace” is not just peace in its most literal meaning – namely, lack of war between different groups. Saying that “God’s Name is ‘Peace'” means that peace has a meaning beyond lack of war, a meaning that also transcends the transient phenomena of our world and reaches the highest levels of existence. It is peace not only between people who hate each other, or between the beasts of the field, but a general, all-encompassing peace which is an expression of the whole (in Hebrew, the words “peace” – shalom, “whole” – shalem, and wholeness – shleimut, all come from the same root), and which is therefore peace between all the warring forces in the world: between the opposing forces of nature as well as between the various spiritual forces – emotion and thought, passions and ideas. This peace is the full harmony uniting all creation; it is the eternal serenity of all the worlds, when they advance in unity toward the fulfillment of their goal.
But even earthly peace in the literal sense – life without war – is one of the greatest blessings. Our Sages say: “God has not found a vessel which contains blessing for Israel but peace” (Okatzin 3,12). Earthly peace means putting an end to the pains of war – the pains of widowhood and bereavement, the pains of wounds and the demolition of normal daily life, and beyond that – lifting the encumbering worries of impending disaster. It is the serenity and tranquility that enable man to turn away from his daily life problems and devote himself to the loftiest eternal issues.
True, dangers and worries do not justify ignoring the loftier problems. However, they do divert our attention. The muses may be silent when the cannons roar, yet the soul does not forget and does not cease to exist at all times. Human beings are not only physical, and guarding our physical existence ought not to be our sole concern. Man’s soul continues to exist even in time of war, and answering its needs is no less important in time of war or physical exhaustion than in a period of peace and quiet.
Although there is no objective justification for ignoring spirituality in time of war, there is a subjective justification for it. Man, who is usually not too eager to deal with complex and obscure spiritual questions, uses the times of earthly tension as an excuse to avoid them. Those issues that concerned him in his youth are always bound to keep surfacing, either overtly or in a hidden way in the form of a feeling of inexplicable heaviness, reduced vitality or lack of a desire to live. Lack of an answer to these questions continuously burdens the soul. Therefore man gladly takes any opportunity to evade this spiritual discomfort by turning to the material problems, which seem to be more urgent and pressing, and which exempt him from getting to the essence of things.
Sometimes, however, it happens that in times of distress and fear, or under enemy attacks, people open up to the spiritual. Atheists may shed a lot of intellectual husks and find an inner kernel of faith. But even when such an inner wellspring exists, even when it expresses something real, it is transient, it cannot last. It is a temporary, soothing solution, but on the whole it cannot have a continuous existence. When a peaceful time arrives, and the heavy material burden is lifted from both soul and body, the spiritual issues surface again.
Peace entails not only the lifting of a burden from the heart and turning one’s thoughts upwards, Earthly peace is merely the shadow of complete, Heavenly peace. Every form of bounty in the lower world reflects bounty in the spiritual realms. Earthly peace gives everyone a taste of the eternal tranquility of Divine peace. This earthly peace is a call unto man, every man, to use the gift of tranquility in order to soar higher, and reach supreme peace through his actions.
Divine peace is the creation of harmony both from and through opposites. In a state of such peace, different people, different issues and different ideas are bound together not out of necessity, but out of choice. In our world, differences are a source of estrangement and enmity; but on a higher level, opposites both attract and complement each other. When this happens, then there is true peace in the world. This is the essence of the complete, total peace, which reigns in both “the Divine retinue and the terrestrial retinue,” ascending to the highest level, the level of “God is peace.