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Abraham Skorka

Rabbin, Argentine

The dramatic necessity of peace for humanity inspired Saint John Paul II, thirty years ago, to summon religious and spiritual leaders from throughout the world for a prayer for peace in Assisi.

Today, thirty years later the world has not changed, violence and hate continue paving their terrifying way, and demented crimes are shocking us daily, day after day. 

Uncertainty has become more and more one of the characteristics of human reality. The European Union, which was built up with efforts and passion with the purpose to erase for once and forever the hate between the European rival countries, suffered in the last years serious collapsing symptoms. What appeared to be a well established model of international interaction is trembling in our present. Brexit is a clear example

In the name of God, individuals are ready to approach other human beings and to stab them to death. Unmerciful wars are going on in multiple places in the world, and the community of nations reveals to be totally unable to stop this drama. Blind and exacerbated egoism continue being the major decision-maker factor in our present human reality.           

Individuals proclaiming racist and strong nationalistic and segregational ideas, are holding leadership positions in well established democratic countries, as well as in others, which are on the way to establish a democratic reality for themselves. 

Uncertainty about the future to come, no clear ethical rules respected by peoples and nations, build the best scenario for the rise of demagogic and corrupted leaders who impose realities of dementia in the midst of their peoples and countries.      

Thirty years after the first meeting in  Assisi we can´t say that  Humanity has changed substantially its attitude, but the voice calling for justice, peace and love among people that emerged since then has not been silenced and the spiritual fire lit then, gather us today.

All efforts to bring peace among human beings immediately raise the question: is a reality of peace really and truly achievable for us? Or the issue is a mere Utopia dreamt by sensitive individuals with a great imagination and a great lack of reality? Are we, in the end, lastly a very sophisticated animal unable to overcome the crude Darwinian law of surviving?       

For the believers in the transcendental biblical God, to make and pursue peace is one of the most important challenges that God is asking from each individual. In the book of Psalms in the chapter 34 (12-15) we read: “Come children, hear onto me, the reverential fear of God I will teach you. Who is the man who desires life that loves the days in which he will see the good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking guile. Apart yourself from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it”

From these phrases we learn that the achievement of peace requires a process, in other words: to know how to behave doing the good, offering an input and aid for the multiplication of peace for the whole of Humanity. This demands hard work with our souls.

But what kind of work has to be done in order to transform each individual, and a whole society providing them with the necessary antibodies which enable them to overcome their destructive passions? 

The intellectual humanism that marked European culture in the XVIII, XIX and part of the XX centuries, also had the making of peace as one of the main challenges, which should have been and be achieved through an intellectual process. In 1932 the then recently created International Institute of Intellectual Cooperation of the League of Nations, proposed Albert Einstein to maintain an epistolary interchange with a personality of his choice in order to analyze a theme he, Dr. Einstein, selected. He elected Sigmund Freud, and the chosen theme was “Is there any way of delivering mankind from the menace of war?” The letters were published in 1933, in Paris, with the title: Warum Krieg? 

Einstein analyzes the problem of violence or the destructive impulses in human being from several points of view. He departs from the world political organization and agreements which aim to avoid international conflicts. Once he demonstrates the fragility of them, he finishes with the question how to dominate the destructive impulses which are part of the constitution of the psyche of human being. Einstein writes to Freud with the hope, of receiving some kind of answer from him in order to develop a way that allows the construction of a cultured man, who abhors violence.

Freud´s answer is not optimistic. He stresses the importance of impulses for human being, the impulse of life and the impulse of death, Eros and Thanatos. Freud concludes that through a culturalization process, the human being can acquire the necessary tools that enable him to domain Thanatos. But, from another point of view he emphasizes the great problems involved in this process.

In the world of Freud and Einstein the presence of a transcendental God does not exist. Culture and civilization are reduced to a human decision. There is not another being, beside the intimate familiar circle of the individual, and the society that he is part of, that demands from him a behavior of justice and mercy. 

Freud finishes his answer to Einstein saying:

“Of the psychological characteristics of civilization, two appear to be the most important: a strengthening of the intellect, which is begin¬ning to govern life of instincts, and an internalization of the aggressive impulses, with all its consequent advantages and perils. No war is in the crassest opposition to the psychical attitude imposed on us by the process of civilization, and for that reason we are bound to rebel against it; we simply cannot put up with it any longer. This is not merely an intellectual and emotional repudiation/divorce; we pacifists, have a constitutional intolerance of war, an idiosyncrasy magnified, as it were, to the highest degree. It seems, indeed, as though the lowering of aesthetic standards in war, plays a scarcely smaller part in our rebellion than do its cruelties. 

And how long shall we have to wait before the rest of mankind become pacifists too? There is no telling and no answer. But it may not be Utopian to hope that these two factors, the cultural attitude and the justified dread of the con¬sequences of a future war, may result within a measurable time in putting an end to the waging of war. Through which paths or via which  side-tracks this will come about, we cannot guess. But one thing we can say: whatever fosters the growth of civilization works at the same time against war.

I trust you will forgive me if what I have said has disappointed you, and I remain, with kindest regards, . . .” 


Eighty four years after these concepts developed by Freud in his answer to Einstein, the “cultural human attitude” result evident per se and not the necessary power to domain the destructive impulses in human being. Nazi Germany is the most relevant example. One of the most cultured countries in its time was transformed by a regime of terror into a fabulous war machine and a sophisticated annihilation tool in the hands of insane rulers.

From the other side, the dread of the consequences of a future was not in the past and is not in the present a real deterrent against violence and war.

The only way, in accordance to the biblical vision of the human being, agrees in domaining the destructive pulses, transforming them into constructive, is the development of spiritual work  in the inner part of each individual.

Humanity dramatically requires paradigms of honesty, integrity, justice and mercy. The voice of moral has to have much more place in the media. All kind of aggressiveness and terror activities must be condemned without any consideration. For those who really would like to perform something relevant in order to approach peace to human reality, indifference and non involvement regarding the suffering of the neighbor, must be considered a sin.

A culture without the presence of a demanding God of justice, in which the rules and values to be taken into consideration regarding behavior are a matter of relativism, will be unable to develop an actual reality of peace. 

From verse 19:2 in Leviticus we learn a very important thing about the necessary requirements to build up a society of peace and spirituality. The verse says: (King James Version (KJV) :

“Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy”

Moses, and surely that many others in the midst of the people of Israel knew about pureness and holiness. The great leader of the Sons of Israel had a unique dialogue with God, which was at that time God´s necessity to charge Moses with the mission to transform all the people of Israel into a society of holy people. The reason is, that the presence of certain number of righteous people is not enough to assure a reality of peace. The necessary condition, but not sufficient, to build up peace, is, to have people, a society where the majority of its individuals seek peace.  

Thirty years ago, very spiritual persons gathered in Assisi with the purpose to engage many others in the commitment of expanding the challenge to work for peace. They knew that in their solitude they could approach God, but they could not fulfill the mission that the Almighty put in front of them as spiritual leaders. Thirty years after, today, the world continues full with shades of hate, fanaticism, demagogy and cruelty. But, in spite of all this, some very important goals were achieved, the biblical message was transmitted, the millenary hope for peace, which is the core of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic faith, continues palpitating in the hearts of many.