Question & Answer With Rabbi Micha Golshevsky - Rodef Shalom
A Simple Jew asks:
Pirkei Avos 1:12 instructs us to be rodef shalom, to pursue peace. Yet these words have a connotation that are seemingly contradictory. Pursuit (רד'פה) has a connotation of nitzachon, being victorious over or overtaking something else. When establishing peaceful and harmonious relations with another person, the word rodef (pursuer) hardly seems to fit into this idea.
The Degel Machaneh Ephraim taught that sometimes a person need to harness this quality of nitzachon in order to act as a rodef and negotiate peace. On a practical level, how can we implement this advice of becoming a rodef shalom?
Rabbi Micha Golshevsky answers:
Rav Aharon of Belz enjoyed learning Torah in a very sharp didactical manner, known as pilpul. Many great sages were very against this method since by its very nature it allows one to focus on exceedingly improbable, even outlandish, reasoning.
Someone worked up the nerve to ask why? Was not a simple, straightforward approach preferable?
He responded, "In pilpul one works very hard to explain a difficulty even in the most unlikely way. Similarly, I need to sharpen my skills to learn how to explain even the most outlandish actions of fellow Jews!"
We have to struggle to gain mastery over the bad in ourselves so we can focus on the positive traits of others instead of the negative. Like any battle we need to keep struggling until we win through and are victorious, bringing and maintaining peace.
When the true rodef shalom is confronted with a machlokes he always searches for some way to justify another's actions.
Once, when Rav Shlomo Wolbe, zt"l, was in a certain town in Israel, he stayed at the home of one of the Rabbonim of the town. The Rav asked Rav Wolbe to accompany him to a din Torah. They arrived first, but when the other local Rav arrived, Rav Wolbe's host refused to stand for him. This seemed strange since the newly arrived Rav was far older than Rav Wolbe's host and common courtesy seemed to indictate that the younger Rav stand or at least make some gesture of respect toward the senior talmid chacham.
At this point, a few of the members of the community called over Rav Wolbe and pleaded with him, "Rabbi, please! Can't you make peace between the two Rabbis of our town? They haven't spoken to each other in so long."
When Rav Wolbe broached the subject with his host, the man expressed indignation and began to heap abuse on the elder Rav. He began an impassioned litany of all his grievances against the other Rav. "How could I consider making peace with someone who acted that way toward me!" When Rav Wolbe's host finished pouring out all his pent-up venom he concluded, "Only someone like Rav Avrohom Grodzinsky zt"l could be a Rav in the same city as another great Rav like Rav Aizik Sher, zt"l, and still treat him like a brother!"
Rav Wolbe retorted, "Don't be so sure! I am certain that it was harder for them to live with each other than for you two here. You must learn to be less judgmental and get along!"
But what about when the offender explains his motives which are objectively not acceptable and the perpetrator acts as though nothing is amiss or is even unreasonably offended?
The Likutey Halachos explains that the main cause of prolonged strife is when someone with a lot of good, acts in a childish or otherwise inappropriate manner. The recipient of such an outburst naturally tends to see the offender in a new and more sinister light.
The rationale for strife often goes something like this, "If so and so can act in such a fashion I don't want to have anything to do with him. After all, he should certainly know better. He acted in such a way despite this because he is not a good person." Naturally such thoughts cause great strife.
In order to gain peace in such a situation, one must learn to switch this damaging calculation around. "Since so and so acted in such an inappropriate fashion, it is clear that he has a lot of folly (who doesn't?) All the good attributes are probably not natural, but come to him only with much toil. He must works hard to overcome his negative attributes. It's no wonder he did such a negative act. On the contrary, how has he achieved so much positive?!"
Instead of using the bad to indict the person of being "rotten", use the negative to bring out the positive. This once again takes a measure of defeating ones tendency to be negative. On a much simpler level, if we have offended someone else we must prevail upon their better nature to forgive us.
Rav Nosson writes that one reason why the custom is that many wear costume or at least masks on Purim is because one of the themes of Purim is that there was good will between friends. The only way to have good will between friends is to change ones face to many different colors to relate to each person properly so that one is truly at peace with all men.
As the Mishna states, "Hashem didn't find a vessel for blessing other than peace!"