Monday, September 06, 2010

Requesting peace

[Originally posted in 2007]

This post starts out looking like just another self-indulgent whine about King James-isms, but please keep reading; it actually has a point that may be worth bearing in mind, especially in this season of reflection.

As we all know--and by "we all" I mean all of us native speakers of English--anyhow, as all of us know, Psalm 34 tells us to "seek peace, and pursue it." It appears that way, with or without the comma, both in King James and and in every English-language Jewish translation I've seen. Although we all know the psalm says this, we can refine it a little and make it clearer. Bakesh, translated in this verse as "seek," usually means "request" or "beg," a specific kind of seeking.

The difference is important. A mevakesh--one who is requesting--is not arrogant (as other seekers may be), at least at the moment of the request. A mevakesh is in a humbled condition. The person the mevakesh is addressing has something that the mevakesh, hat in hand and powerless, doesn't have. If the mevakesh comes with a request for peace, it may be that what the person receiving the request has is justice. To be mevakesh shalom means that you acknowledge that you may not be the good guy in the dispute--that real peace quite possibly may not be on the terms that you want.

This is an important lesson at any time, but it seems especially important this time of year. Going around and asking for forgiveness should not be a meaningless formality. If a true mevakesh shalom makes a random and meaningless seasonal apology and someone replies, "Well, there are some serious things that I need to forgive you for; do you have time to hear them?" the mevakesh finds the time to hear them and to take them seriously.

The entire staff of Consider the Source wish all of our readers a shanah tovah. And since all of our readers won't quite fill a phone booth (especially since phone booths are hard to find in this day and age), we also wish the rest of you, who aren't reading this, a shanah tovah.