How to Create Peace: Personal and Communal

Rabbi Nir Menussi’s teachings are a source of enlightenment for those seeking peace. He draws from the rich wisdom of Jewish tradition to guide individuals and communities towards personal and collective harmony. Through his engaging podcasts and stories, he delves into the transformative journey of Teshuvah, which involves returning to our most authentic selves. By exploring the essence of Teshuvah and Jewish progress, Rabbi Menussi imparts valuable lessons that inspire hope and direction in our pursuit of lasting peace.

The message of Hanukkah is timeless and speaks to our longing for global harmony, which is still a goal we strive towards. Rabbi Nir Menussi’s wisdom provides illuminating perspectives on how we can actively work towards this noble aspiration.

In a podcast episode, ‘Awakening Teshuvah,’ Rabbi Menussi responded to a question regarding whether his weekly Torah talks motivate people to make positive changes, such as becoming more devoted to the Jewish faith—a concept termed ‘hozer be teshuvah’ in Hebrew. He further elaborated:

“People awaken to Teshuvah – self-improvement and spiritual growth – not when censured or rebuked, but when they are helped to recognize their sins on their own.

There is something inherently paradoxical about the awakening of Teshuvah. On the one hand, it must start from within. On the other hand, only the chick knows when to break out of its egg. If someone tries to hatch the egg prematurely, its growth can be ruined. This is what criticism and rebuke often do. They make a person shrink back, thereby hindering their development… because Teshuvah entails the unpleasant realization that we’re not living optimally, we react with defence mechanisms. These can manifest as either self-justification or self-flagellation. In either case, the result is the same. We further entrench ourselves in our everyday lifestyle and don’t change.”

The heart of this paradox lies in the subtle art of motivating someone towards Teshuvah. The Torah portion this week tells the story of Tamar and Judah, found in the Book of Genesis, chapter 38. Tamar, who used her shrewdness to change her fate, was first married to Judah’s eldest son, who died, leaving her a widow due to his sins. As per tradition, she was then married to the next brother, who also passed away. Wary of Tamar’s influence, Judah was delaying her marriage to his third son. Tamar, noticing this, came up with a plan: she disguised herself as a prostitute and seduced Judah, who unknowingly left his belongings as payment. When Tamar became pregnant, Judah condemned her, but she sent his belongings back with a cryptic message, prompting Judah to confess. Tamar’s wisdom led Judah to admit his wrongdoings, resulting in his repentance and the birth of twins who later became ancestors of King David and the Messiah.

 The Path of Self-Improvement

People start their journey of Teshuvah, a path of self-improvement and spiritual growth, not by being criticized or rebuked but by being guided to see their shortcomings. The crucial factor is that those helping must also improve themselves. Any adverse treatment hinders progress, but approaching others sincerely can inspire genuine and complete Teshuvah.

In the second podcast, titled “The Secrets of Jewish Progress,” Rabbi Menussi delves into the dynamics of social change. Using the example of Jacob and Esau, lifelong rivals who reunite after two decades, he explores how their interactions resonate with the broader narrative of Western culture intertwined with the Jewish story.

“The king is dead; long live the king!”

This familiar cry echoes through the corridors of monarchies upon the coronation of a new sovereign. It seems paradoxical at first, as it appears to wish a long life to a dead ruler. However, upon closer examination, it becomes clear that it refers to two different monarchs. This intentional ambiguity highlights a significant change in leadership. The attention quickly shifts from the previous ruler’s demise to the new sovereign, now the exclusive and permanent crown holder.

This ceremonial tradition holds significance beyond mere anecdotes. It mirrors a profound aspect ingrained in Western culture—the tendency to erase the past and start anew. This characteristic sets Western cultural norms apart from Judaic principles.

After Esau’s departure, the Torah describes the notable figures and monarchs who will descend from him. Additionally, it lists the kings who governed Edom before Israel had its king; each ruler succeeded by a new one after death.

Traditionally, Edom is seen as representing Rome or the West, giving symbolic meaning to the account of Edomite kings. This repetition in the rule of Edom is an allegory for the recurring pattern in Western civilization. A series of revolutions marks the history of the West, each attempting to dismantle previous systems and establish a new order, only to be replaced by the next wave of revolution.

From Revolutions to Reckonings

Ancient Greece and Rome’s hedonistic cultures led to Christian asceticism, which was succeeded by secularism. The French Revolution rebelled against the old regime, becoming terror before embracing democracy. The communist revolution overthrew Czarist rule but eventually collapsed into a dictatorship.

A recurring theme resonates throughout history—the dynamic of “he died… he reigned” reverberates across various realms such as science, art, and culture. Opposing ideas constantly challenge established norms. Every new way of thinking replaces the old, making it seem as though each change is the ultimate peak of progress.

Today, we face the aftermath of recent revolutions:

  • Enthralled by smartphones, society quickly gave screens to every child, realizing the harm only after a generation. Remedies like YouTube Kids and Google Families emerged.
  • Leaders of the sexual revolution shattered traditional mores, leading to issues like childhood exposure to pornography, a loneliness epidemic, and a surge in “me-too” litigants. A narrow academic view labeled all gender differences as oppressive “social constructs.” Now, parents and educators deal with a wave of gender-confused children seeking irreversible changes.

These changes illustrate the evolving landscape of our society and the challenges we must navigate in the wake of past revolutions.

My Own Slow Pace

Esau’s narrative exhibits a recurring pattern. In a moment of weariness, he dismisses the significance of his birthright and exchanges it with Jacob for a bowl of lentil stew. Later, he regrets this decision and asserts that he was deceived. Esau’s character could be more consistent, as he oscillates between honouring his father by preparing a meal and contemplating such actions only after his father’s demise.

Esau initially had hostile intentions towards Jacob, but later extended an invitation for them to live together. This unpredictable behavior is often associated with the founders of Western revolutions. In contrast, Jacob tends to favor a cautious approach. When Esau seeks reconciliation, Jacob responds with a commitment to proceed at his own deliberate pace, prioritizing careful progress in alignment with the significance of his name. Jacob shares Esau’s desires, but he remains steadfast in his determination to avoid acting impulsively. He contemplates the prospect of collaborating with Esau, but underscores the importance of measured advancement, ensuring that each step he takes resonates with his aspirations. Jacob’s cautious demeanor stems from a fear of overlooking crucial elements, encompassing both the pace of his work and his familial responsibilities.

“I will move at my own slow pace.” Jacob’s commitment to eschew impulsivity is unwavering, despite sharing similar aspirations with his brother Esau, who has an inclination towards the allure of immediate gratification. Fear of neglecting critical considerations drives Jacob’s cautious approach as he navigates the pursuit of his ambitions. Two distinct factors contribute to Jacob’s deliberate strategy: “According to the pace of the work that is before me” and “According to the pace of the children.”

The term “le-Regel” comes from Hebrew, meaning “according to the pace of.” It brings to mind the imagery of weights slowing down one’s progress, derived from the word “regel.” This language choice suggests that burdens such as labour and concern for future generations can be hindrances. Labour here encompasses more than just physical toil; it symbolizes efforts to elevate the ordinary into the divine, as in Jacob’s desire to build the Sanctuary. His practical spirituality seeks to transcend worldly limitations.

The weight of progeny reflects the responsibility for future generations. While revolutionary ideas may arise, they must consider the tender souls of children and the needs of each era. A multi-generational perspective allows for a comprehensive examination but requires adaptation to ensure a stable and prosperous future amidst evolving ideas.

Navigating Innovation in Jewish Thought

Jacob’s measured perspective doesn’t outright proclaim that “the new is forbidden according to the Torah”; instead, it regards innovation cautiously. He questions its benefits, examines hidden aspects, and considers its compatibility with tradition. It’s intriguing that in Hebrew, “chadash” (new) and “chashad” (suspicion) share the same letters, suggesting a reason to be skeptical about news and novelty.

This is the secret of Jewish progress: we don’t get mired in the past, but we also don’t throw it away; we carry it with us towards the future. We don’t march in place, but we also don’t jump ahead; we walk with moderation, step by step. We aren’t satisfied with the old interpretations but don’t dismiss them; we add new variations that respond to the times.

According to the Sages, “The innovator has the lower hand.” Traditionally, this implies a disadvantage for those challenging the status quo. However, Rabbi Moshe Genuth offers a nuanced perspective, blending conservatism and revolution. He suggests that innovators should start by embracing the foundational aspects of the existing structure, lifting the entire system from its earliest level. By incorporating and elevating what came before, their innovations connect with past generations, gain acceptance, and carry the richness of history into the future.



  1. Lessons from London: You Can’t Fix Jihad” by A.J. Caschetta, published on The Hill, February 26, 2020.
  2. Nir Menussi, an author, public speaker, and teacher, has written and edited numerous books on Kabbalah and Hassidut, delivering lectures extensively in Israel and abroad.
  3. Nir Menussi Podcast: “Awakening Teshuvah.”
  4. Nir Menussi Podcast: “The Secrets of Jewish Progress.”

One thought on “How to Create Peace: Personal and Communal

  1. I know this isn’t the main point of this piece. But thanks for including the story of Tamar and Judah – one of the many Biblical stories I did not know!

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