by Yehuda HaKohen
HaShem spoke to Moshe, saying: ‘When you elevate the heads (take a census) of the Children of Israel according to their numbers, every man shall give HaShem an atonement for his soul when counting them, so that there will not be a plague among them when counting them. This shall they give – everyone who passes through the census – a half shekel of the sacred shekel, the shekel is twenty gera, half a shekel as a portion to HaShem. Everyone who passes through the census, from twenty years of age and up, shall give the portion to HaShem.” (SHEMOT 30:11-14)

Men of Israel, regardless of their financial standings, were called upon to each contribute a half shekel towards the upkeep of the Mishkan. The identical participation from the entire Hebrew Nation teaches that we are all equally responsible for advancing Israel’s mission of bringing humankind to perfection through the awareness of HaShem as the timeless ultimate Reality without end that creates all, sustains all, empowers all and loves all.

The half shekel was collected precisely from those who fought in Israel’s army, teaching that one who subdues his private interests for the sake of the collective receives the infinite blessing of playing an active role in the Divine plan. And while even today the Israeli military serves as a unifying force in the life of the Jewish people, it is often said that a major challenge confronting the advancement of the Hebrew mission is a lack of cohesion within our nation. In order to arrive at a level of national unity, genuine peace must exist within the camps of Israel. And while this may seem near impossible on the surface, it is actually attainable once we internalize certain concepts.

When Jews from opposing ideological perspectives encounter one another, both must understand and accept a basic premise before any productive dialogue can exist. They must appreciate that regardless of their differences on various details, both yearn for what they deem to be best for not only Israel but also for all of humanity at large. They must understand that they do not represent opposite sides of a conflict but rather different opinions within one camp and equally vital aspects of one larger truth. Only once this basic understanding is clear can their dispute become one between brothers and not enemies. Once this is recognized, productive dialogue can exist between the two as they realize that they both desire ultimate good and each have specific issues to focus on and fight for in order to bring the greater collective to that ultimate good. When this national harmony is fully achieved, Israel will be able to effectively advance our collective national struggle, fulfill our purpose as mankind’s life-giving heart and shine Divine blessing to the world from Jerusalem.

Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook teaches there to be a significant difference between the Western notion of peace and the Hebrew concept of Shalom. Peace is utilitarian, where the individual realizes that he is by nature a social being and that it is impossible to achieve personal objectives alone. Only when people unite by making peace, can they achieve their individual desires and personal goals.

Shalom – from the word shalem (complete) – is a far loftier ideal. Its driving force is not individual achievement but rather a healthy desire to attain universal harmony. It is based on the idea that all people are in reality united at the Source, all being the children of HaShem, and that peace is His Divine Will for mankind. Through Shalom, great wellsprings of wisdom and progress can be opened up and the world can be uplifted to its Divine idyllic state.

In addition to the mutually distinct motivational forces behind these two concepts, there is also a significant difference between their functional consequences. A peace resulting from a person’s selfish considerations is incidental and has no true basis in reality. As a result, it cannot endure and becomes a means rather than an end. An example of this is a peace agreement between peoples, whose underlying motivation is guided by the selfish aspiration to live life without disruption. Because such peacemakers are driven by the egotistic desire to live safer and more comfortable lives, they are prone to use peace as a cynical tool with which to advance their own personal interests. Although this peace may sometimes appear to gain strength, it is destined to be devoured in the flames of war as each party essentially seeks to benefit itself.

Shalom, however, will endure forever, gaining momentum as history advances because it is based on the recognition that HaShem’s plan for Creation can only be fulfilled through genuine harmony between peoples and a deep inner love for all of humanity.

Only once the Nation of Israel succeeds at bridging our differences will we be able to realize our full potential in bringing history’s ultimate goal to fruition. A strong and unified Israel will be able to reach its highest function as the conduit that channels Divine blessing onto all of Creation. Through true inner harmony, Israel will ascend to a higher plane of existence as all of the individual virtues and talents of seemingly dissimilar factions combine to form a nation that expresses kedusha in every sphere of reality, setting an example of Shalom to all humankind.

With Love of Israel,

-Yehuda HaKohen

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