I've always looked forward to Shabbat Shira, the Shabbat of Song, when we read Shirat HaYam from Parashat Beshalach. The Song at the Sea convolves so many ideas fundamental to Judaism: God's power over nature, the real and symbolic importance of water, our redemption from slavery. It also celebrates the conquest of our enemies and subsequent punishment. The haftarah read on this Shabbat is the Song of Deborah, which also celebrates the military victory over our enemies.
I love the focus on song, I love how this is a time to remember the outpouring of emotion which can only be effected through song. But, reading the words, I am saddened by the exaltation of strength, power and violence. I am embarrassed by the translation which revels in the terror visited upon the foes of our ancestors. The Tanakh is preoccupied with dominance and conquest, and peace is an afterthought.
Perhaps this is how it must have been in order to insure the continuation of Israel, the people, the nation. Somewhere along the line the rabbis recognized that Judaism must shift its focus from dominance to peace. The ultimate goal is not conquest, and peace does not imply the servitude of another nation (as in Deuteronomy Chapter 20). The experience of the Diaspora was humbling: the rest of the world would not be drowned by God although at times it may seem as though our enemies are everywhere. Peace with Egypt was not secured by the drowning of Pharoah's armies. Rather, we were given a temporary reprieve until we could find a way to make peace. Must we fight to defend ourselves? Yes, but that is not enough.
We have not yet found that way to peace. At times, it appears some Jews are stuck in the Biblical era, hoping to return to the (short-lived) prominence of David. However, my discomfort with the past leads me to a profound thankfulness for the present. Judaism has, indeed, evolved. We are not being pursued across the Sea of Reeds and we need not hope for the vanquishing of our enemies. Our lesson from living dispersed in the world is precisely to make peace throughout the world. Destroying our enemy does not make peace. It may provide a temporary respite, but ultimately we must come to a common understanding of how to live together. Let us join in that search for peace, a peace which goes beyond Shirat HaYam.