Rabbi’s Corner

Rabbi’s corner: Swords into plowshares

Looking at the big picture, we may see a world where wars and hate are intensifying, homicides and suicides are on the rise, and peace is something humanity just can’t seem to figure out.

Rabbi Ephraim Zimmerman
Rabbi Ephraim Zimmerman

Let’s look a little deeper. Let’s compare today’s day and age to a bygone era of brutality and bloodshed. Our society seems to be drifting to a happier place, exchanging violence and hatred for acceptance and giving.

Unbeknownst to many, violence is presently at an all-time low. Since the end of the Cold War in 1992, there has been a historically unprecedented decline in global violence and bloodshed.

Harvard professor Steven Pinker addresses the hard- to-believe fact that war is obsolescent. “The very idea invites skepticism, incredulity and sometimes anger. Our cognitive faculties predispose us to believe that we live in violent times, especially when they are stoked by media that follow the watchword ‘If it bleeds, it leads.’ No matter how small the percentage of violent deaths may be, in absolute numbers there will always be enough of them to fill the evening news, so people’s impressions of violence will be disconnected from the actual proportions. But our impressions of the prevalence of war, stoked by these images, can be misleading. Only objective numbers can identify the trends.”

Pinker shows how evidence of a bloody history has always been around us, but now the decline in these brutal practices can be quantified. Tribal warfare was nine times as deadly as war and genocide in the 20th century. The murder rate in medieval Europe was more than 30 times what it is today. Slavery, sadistic punishments and frivolous executions were unexceptionable features of life for millennia, and then began to dwindle. Wars between developed countries have vanished, and even in the developing world, wars kill a fraction of the numbers they did a few decades ago. Rape, hate crimes, deadly riots, child abuse — all substantially down.

Some of the primary sources for these studies are The Human Security Report 2005, “Winning the War on War” by Joshua S. Goldstein, and Pinker in his book “The Better Angels of our Nature.” The hard facts, graphs, tables and numbers are very difficult to dispute.

Obsolete? Not quite yet. Although we are on the steady path to a peaceable time, atrocities and mayhem continue to obstruct the way. Tragedies and violence sadly affect the lives of many in our world today. However, looking at the past and the world we are coming from, the reality is that today violence is but a fraction of what it once was.

This era in time was prophesied over 2,700 years ago by a prophet named Yeshaya (Isaiah). In a revolutionary prophecy in the name of G-d, he said the famed words concerning the future messianic era, “And they will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift sword against nation, and they will study war no more.” At the time that prophecy was uttered, when war was sown into the fabric of existence, this concept was a laughable fantasy. But now, in the year 2013, we are beginning to watch his words unfold.

Fascinatingly, the verse predicts the very weapons used for destruction will become agricultural tools aiding in production. Today, air forces are being used to bring food and medicine to disaster victims, and arms are being redirected from military uses to peacetime goals.

As individuals, we can focus on the increased giving and peacefulness in our times. Let’s help this world reach its complete transformation by continuing the cycle of peace in our own lives and homes. Reach out to another, say a kind word. Together, we can usher in the ultimate peacetime and the completion of Isaiah’s prophecy with the coming of Moshiach, may it be speedily in our days!