today is this challenge that Psalm 34 lays out before us: seek peace, and pursue it. Redifut shalom, the pursuit of peace, is understood in the rabbinic tradition as a mitzvah, a holy obligation. And it is unique among mitzvot. Rabbi Hizkia taught:
Great is shalom, peace, because about all of the mitzvot in the Torah it is written, “If you happen upon,” “If it should occur,” “If you see,” which implies that if the opportunity to do the mitzvah comes upon you, then you must do it, and if not, you are not bound to do it. But in the case of peace, it is written, Seek peace, and pursue it—seek it in the place where you are, and pursue after it in another place. (Vayikra Rabbah 9:9)
What is the teaching here? That with all of our other ethical obligations, we must act correctly when the opportunity presents itself, when a particular situation arises. But in the case of peace, we have to be pro-active. We have an obligation to do the work of peace-making not only in the place where we happen to be, but also in other places, in places where voices of peace and conciliation have not yet reached.
Redifut shalom, the pursuit of peace, is not naïve—it’s just very difficult. “Who is the mightiest of the mighty?” the Talmud asks. “The one who makes his enemy into a friend.” (Avot d’Rabbi Natan 23)