How far are we willing to go for peace?
One of the intriguing topics in the Torah’s longest parshah is the sotah, a woman accused of infidelity. The suspicious husband must remain separate from his wife until she can be exonerated by drinking the “bitter waters.” The process of preparing this powerful potion includes dissolving a piece of parchment which contains the curses that will befall the sotah if she is, in fact, guilty. Even though these words come from verses which bear the name of G-d, the Torah instructs that they be destroyed to allow for the possibility of clearing her of all charges. Remarkably, Hashem is willing to erase His own name for the sake of shalom bayis, helping the couple take the first step toward rebuilding their relationship (Sukkah 53b).
Rav Chaim Volozhiner zt”l elaborated that, with this process, Hashem is modeling just how far we must go to preserve and foster peace. Maintaining harmony between any two people is a tough job. Relationships always involve different personalities, opinions, and emotions, and sometimes one misunderstanding or poorly-timed comment can drive friends or loved ones to opposite ends of the earth. In order to ensure that peace prevails, we must be willing to “erase our names,” i.e., minimize ourselves and even endure personal indignity.
What does this look like on a practical level?
In our own relationships, it might be withholding a biting comeback, suffering an insult instead of escalating the hostility further. In the heat of conflict, it can feel agonizing to let the adversary have the last word, but reconciliation often requires one side to prioritize unity over winning. When helping repair shalom among others, “erasure” can be selflessly investing many hours of listening, empathy, and advice to help mediate a messy dispute. Often those caught in the middle of bitter dissension can feel drained, frustrated, and even personally attacked. Perhaps this is why Chazal chose the imagery of a kettle to symbolize peace (B’rachos 56b). Much like an arbiter of conflict, a pot helps opposing forces (fire and water) coexist productively - all while tolerating intense heat and becoming blackened in the process (Mekor Baruch vol. 3, 19:7).
Promoting peace both in our own relationships, as well as when helping others, requires self-sacrifice and a willingness to diminish - and even erase - our own names. Hashem demonstrated just how far we need to go for the sake of peace. Rav Chaim concluded that every time we take three steps back before reciting oseh shalom bimromav, it is a reminder that we must be willing to walk many steps out of our way - even backwards! - in order to create shalom.