Issues Volume 01 Number 10

Not many dogs live in the little shtetl of Vaysechvoos. The reason is simple: after people finish eating, there is not much left over to feed a dog. On the other hand cats are plentiful in that little village, for when you have a cat, well, at the very least, it can manage to feed itself with mice. In any case, the cats seem to be eating for they are all quite fat.…

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So enough already, I don't want to hear. They say you've got answers, well, I just don't care.…

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We shall overcome, we shall overcome, we shall overcome someday…Oh, Lord, deep in my soul, I know that I do believe…We shall overcome someday."…

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Peace! Peace! Peace!

Everybody's for it. Nobody is against it.

But what is that very elusive quality we call peace? For it means different things to different people.

To some, like Napoleon and Hitler, peace results from killing people—at least it means killing to attain their kind of peace.

Peace is what those who follow Eastern religions say comes only through the obliteration of the individual personality; becoming a part of the universe with no awareness of self. But they really mean serenity.

Peace is what the housewife wants when the teenager across the street is practicing on his drums. She really wants quiet.

Peace is what the shopkeeper wants when he's worried about paying his bills. He really means that he'd like his store to be busy and bustling with customers. Peace to him means prosperity.

The patient waiting anxiously in the doctor's office to be told the results of a battery of lab tests wants peace. He really means good health.


Therefore, "peace" is oftentimes defined as the condition of life that should be. But who has the right to determine what should or shouldn't be? If all of us could get the kind of peace we wanted, it would be an imposed peace. It would be peace at the expense of someone else's dream of what peace should be. Peace cannot be determined by our own biased viewpoints or selfish needs. Nor can our standard for peace be set by the norms of our turbulent society. So where can we look, if not to ourselves or society? How do we set up criteria for defining "peace"?

Webster's definitions center around two major themes. One deals with the cessation of hostilities. The other focuses on a freedom from inner turmoil, better known as peace of mind.

We can look at the outworking of these two themes by seeing how two distinct cultures interpreted peace. The word, as commonly used in English, comes from the Latin "pax." Pax to the Romans meant a cessation of hostilities between the conqueror and the vanquished. This peace was always temporary because it depended on who was in the position of strength.

On the other hand, the ancient Hebrew concept of peace, rooted in the word "shalom," meant wholeness, completeness, soundness, health, safety and prosperity, carrying with it the implication of permanence.

Rabbi Robert I. Kahn of Houston, Texas, capsulizes the distinctives of "Roman" peace and "Hebrew" shalom:

"One can dictate a peace; shalom is a mutual agreement.
"Peace is a temporary pact; shalom is a permanent agreement.
"One can make a peace treaty; shalom is the condition of peace.
"Peace can be negative, the absence of commotion. Shalom is positive, the presence of serenity.
"Peace can be partial; shalom is whole.
"Peace can be piecemeal; shalom is complete."

The mystical writings of the Zohar teach that God is peace, His name is peace, and all is bound together in peace. (Zohar, Lev. 10b.) In post-Talmudic Jewish thought, Isaac Arama paraphrased this idea by saying:

    "Peace is a positive thing, the essential means by which men of differing temperaments and opinions can work together for the common good. Pearls of individual virtue would be dim in isolation were it not for the string of peace that binds them together and so increases their luster. That is why peace is a name of God for it is He who gives unity to the whole of creation."…

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