Our actions – more than our thoughts, feelings, or intentions – affect the people around us. We become conduits for Divine energy and influence to the extent that we are able to treat others with kindness, honesty, and integrity.
A focus of Jewish spirituality is the development of positive character traits through the practice of self-monitoring and making conscious contact with God. For those who dislike the G-word, this is another way to say that we seek to base our choices on a sense of interpersonal responsibility and community, and to honor the interconnectedness of all forms of life. We may conceptualize “God” as the positive, creative, altruistic energy within ourselves, and/or an encapsulation of our highest values. We wish to increase our capacity to express our strengths, as informed by our ideals about making a positive difference in the world.
Traditional Judaism attaches to this notion a transcendent, omnipotent Source which creates and maintains the universe, but which is beyond human comprehension. To believe in a transcendent unity means that we don’t think it’s an accident that we have the capacity for love, generosity, fairness, or truthfulness. We don’t think it’s an accident that when we express our best human qualities, most of us feel better. The innate, positive qualities of humanity are viewed as “given by God as a doorway to God.”
Often, due to an accumulation of unexamined behavioral patterns that we human beings naturally construct in the process of forming an identity, we may continue to act against our best inclinations, unwittingly reinforcing the outcomes we seek to avoid. To escape this struggle, we need a paradigm shift. One element of such a shift is a vision of what we want to create and to exemplify.
Great is Peace, A Modern Commentary on Talmud Bavli Tractate Derek Eretz Zuta, provides a line-by-line explanation of what the sages taught about interpersonal ethics in Derech Eretz, a tractate of Talmud found at the end of Talmud Bavli Avodah Zarah and Pirkei Avot. As I see it, Derech Eretz describes in detailed terms what it means to behave in a spiritual manner. How does an awesome human being conduct his or her life?
Derek Eretz literally means ‘the way of the land.’ In Aramaic, zuta means small, or Part One. Because it was written over 1500 years ago, much of the content would be difficult to follow out of historical context. Great is Peace provides a contemporary reading of the material.
The book is based on a series of classes taught online by Rabbi Dr. Arthur Segal. I have been privileged to assist him over the past year in its production – compiling, arranging, editing, clarifying, and designing the print edition. I chose this project because I feel strongly that the information should be made as widely available as possible. From my perspective, Derek Eretz answers the “Why be Jewish?” question quite substantively. It's about values. In time, we hope to produce a second volume on Derek Eretz Rabbah (the second part of the tractate.)
Chapter Ten, also known as The Chapter on Peace, was considered by our rabbis to be so important that they wanted to make it a tractate of Talmud by itself. We are to "love peace and pursue peace." The pursuit of peace (inner and outer) is not time-bound or situational, but an ongoing, active commitment and life-orientation.