The Pitfalls of Pursuing Peace

Ayin Tove
The Pitfalls of Pursuing Peace
June 17, 2010

Hillel says something very puzzling in Avot:

“Be from the students of Aaron, love peace and pursue peace, love creatures [people] and bring them close to torah.” Avot 1:12.

This is problematic because Aaron literally committed idolatry in being a peacemaker. He forms the golden calf while Moses was up on Mount Sinai because the people wanted a golden calf. Exodus 32:4. Aaron prevented a rebellion but at what cost? Perhaps Hillel mentions Aaron precisely for this reason. To remind us that there can be costs to pursuing peace, and that sometimes people compromise core values in the pursuit of peace. So, to be a student of Aaron, perhaps we don’t have to follow him to learn from him. At the same time, Hillel is articulating that peace is an important goal. Interestingly, Hillel’s instruction to pursue peace parallels the torah’s commandment to pursue justice. Deuteronomy 16:20 (“Justice, justice, shalt thou pursue.”). Justice is tempered by peace but we are aware that the pursuit of peace can violate the core values that both peace and justice were trying to protect. So then what?

Ayin Tove is a contributing writer for Gather The Jews and is an attorney for the federal government.