Q. How can the Siddur say, “Scholars increase peace in the world”? How can study bring peace?
A. “You shall teach them (the words of the Torah) diligently to your children” (Deut. 11:19) is the basis of the Jewish stress on education. Initially the command must have been addressed to parents in relation to their own children, but Rashi explains, “Pupils are called children… and the teacher of Torah is called a father”. So the relationship of teacher and pupil is as holy as the relationship of parent and child.
Pupils and teachers are referred to in the Talmudic passage (B’rachot 64a) that you quoted from the Siddur: “Torah scholars increase peace in the world, as it is said, ‘And all your children (pupils) shall be taught of HaShem, and great shall be the peace of your children’ (Isa. 54:13). Do not call them banayich but bonayich.” The “banayich – bonayich” play on words is usually explained as “Do not call them your children but your builders”, because boneh is a builder. Alfasi, however, derives bonayich from a root that means “to understand”, and hence the sages were saying that great peace comes from being a person of understanding.
How do Torah students bring peace? The subject-matter first: the patterns set out in the Torah create a just, stable, equitable society. As the Book of Proverbs says (3:17), “Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace”. The method of study: sitting with others and learning Torah together starts by pointing up differences of opinion, but ends either by coming to a position of peaceful agreement or at least peacefully agreeing to disagree and to acknowledge that there can be peace when there is respect for difference. Even a person who studies alone can help to attain peace because when you discover and grasp the truth you are at peace with yourself, with the world and with God.
Rav Kook points out in his Ein Aya that the Talmud does not say, “make peace” but “increase peace”. The Talmud is full of passages in which the Torah scholars are in sharp disagreement. One might have thought every rabbinic debate would end with someone drawing the strands together and making a compromise, but would be unfair to the protagonists, who are all sincere in their opinions and interpretations and as a matter of principle cannot resile from their positions even to give an appearance of peace.
Rav Kook says, “The increase of peace occurs when all the angles and opinions that exist in wisdom are seen and it is clear how each one has a place. When there is a compilation of all the parts, details and opinions that look different, through them will be seen the light of truth and justice. Torah scholars increase peace in the world by widening, explaining and producing words of wisdom with different facets.”
True peace does not require papering over or removing differences but the recognition that they exist. Peace is when they live together in mutual respect and trust.