Avot 1:12—Hillel says: Be a disciple of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving the Creation and bringing them closer to the Torah.
Hillel is one of the best-known rabbinic sages, and this is one of his most cited teachings. Many commentators have noted that the doubling—love and pursue—emphasizes the imperative of peacemaking. It is not enough to maintain harmony in our own circles; we are, instead, obligated to actively seek peace between all of our fellow human beings.
Far less attention has been paid to the second half of this passage, which has often been mistranslated as “loving people.” But the Hebrew—briyot—refers to the entirety of Creation: plants, animals, insects, rocks, rivers—everything. True peace—or, in the deeper meaning of the word shalom, wholeness—means living in concord with the entirety of the natural world.
Philosopher David Abram explicates this brilliantly in his book, The Spell of the Sensuous:
Our bodies have formed themselves in delicate reciprocity with the manifold textures, sounds, and shapes of an animate earth—our eyes have evolved in subtle interaction with other eyes, as our ears are attuned by their very structure to the howling of wolves and the honking of geese. To shut ourselves off from these other voices, to continue by our lifestyles to condemn these other sensibilities to the oblivion of extinction, is to rob our senses of their integrity, and to rob our minds of their coherence. We are human only in contact and conviviality with what is not human.
We become who we are in relationship with both our fellow human beings and the natural world. To love and pursue peace is to engage, acknowledge, and celebrate those relationships. This is Hillel’s—and Aaron’s—way.