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Jewish Journal

The Fruit of Peace

Parshat Pichas (Numbers 25:10-30:1)

by Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky

June 27, 2002 | 8:00 pm

What did Moshe want? When it all came down to it, after Moshe accepted that he wouldn't be leading Israel into the land, what did he request of God? Not surprisingly, he asked nothing for himself, focusing instead on the people who would need to go on without him. As we read this week, "Lord of the spirit of all flesh, appoint, I pray thee, a man to lead the congregation who will go out before them and who will come in before them, who will lead them out and who will bring them in."

While Moshe's concern for his people is not surprising, it is interesting to note that in his request he is also expressing concern for his successor. The sages of the Midrash recognized that there is something very deliberate in Moshe's description of the successor he envisions. Moshe wanted his successor to be granted the ability both to "lead them out" and to "bring them in." Contrary to his own frustrating experience, in which he brought the people out of Egypt, but was not permitted by God to see them settle in the Promised Land, he desperately wanted his successor to be able to see the fruits of all his labors. Moshe was hoping to obtain a guarantee from God that the next leader of Israel would not suffer the pain of unfulfilled dreams, or the frustration of devoting a lifetime to the fulfillment of a vision, only to have to leave this earth with the goal still unrealized.

Moshe's concern for his successor's fate is well placed and noble. But in the grand scheme of life, it is one that is often unrealistic. The well-known rabbinic story that serves as the counterpoint to Moshe's story, is that of Honi the Circlemaker. During one of his travels, Honi encounters an old man who is planting a carob tree. Amazed at what he saw, Honi called out to the man and inquired whether he was aware of the fact that carob trees don't bear any fruit for 70 years. The planter replied with the familiar words, "when I arrived in this world, I found carob trees here. Just as my ancestors planted for me, I will plant for those who will come after me."

It is this realization that allows the world to move forward with hope. It is the willingness of people to invest themselves in projects whose fruit they will never see, that provides the only basis for the faith that tomorrow can be better than today. If we were to simply give up on the dreams whose fulfillment we wouldn't ourselves see, we would condemn future generations to deprivation and suffering.

We struggle today against an enemy whose ultimate target is hope in the future. With every devastating homicide bombing in Israel, the vision of peaceful coexistence which we hoped our generation would bequeath to our children's, seems increasingly remote, naïve and foolish. We will not see peace in our lifetimes; today's children will not inherit an Israel at peace. This hope has been murdered. For our children's sake though, we must distinguish between the hope for peace, and the hope for peace in our day. We must do all in our power to see to it that the hope for peace burns as an inextinguishable fire in their hearts. This is the reason that our sages insisted that every Jewish prayer -- from the silent "Amidah" to the "Kaddish," to the blessing following the meal -- conclude with the assertion that God will bless us with peace. It is our way of planting the carob tree. It is our way of ensuring that hope lives. We know that somewhere down the line, the sweet fruit of peace will materialize. But we also know that this depends on our planting and guarding over the tree of hope.

Of course it would be gratifying to see the fruition of every project that we began. But carob trees don't grow that way. And neither does peace in Israel.

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