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Shabbat Shalom

June 6, 2020

It may be confusing to a Hebrew language beginner, but it’s no coincidence that the word שלום (shalom) means both “hello” and “peace.” Indeed, every time we greet another person, we should be thinking “שלום עליכם, may peace be upon you.” Moreover, the Gemara teaches that it’s forbidden to say שלום in a bathroom, as שלום is considered to be one of the names of Hashem (Shabbat 10b). So, in fact, more precisely, that one little word of שלום is packed with meaning: may Hashem, שלום Himself, grant you peace. But in truth it’s even deeper than that.

Many texts from our traditional liturgy conclude with a prayer for שלום. We say an entire Shemoneh Esrei prayer three times a day that includes nineteen blessings, and the last one is the blessing for שלום, concluding, “המברך את עמו ישראל בשלום, Who blesses His nation Israel with peace.” After a meal of bread, we say Birkat Hamazon, and conclude that lengthy blessing with, “ה' עז לעמו יתן ה' יברך את עמו בשלום, Hashem gives strength to His nation, Hashem should bless His nation with peace (Psalms 29:11).” And when the Kohanim bless the nation, and parents bless their children on Friday night, with the beautiful three line blessing from our Parsha, they conclude with the words, “וישם לך שלום, and He shall establish peace for you (Bamidbar 6:26).”

In fact, the entire six books of Mishna concludes with the following teaching: “אמר רבי שמעון בן חלפתא לא מצא הקדוש ברוך הוא כלי מחזיק ברכה לישראל אלא השלום שנאמר ה' עז לעמו יתן ה' יברך את עמו בשלום, R. Shimon the son of Chalafta said, Hashem did not find a vessel to hold blessing for Israel other than peace, as it says (Psalms 29:11), ‘Hashem gives strength to His nation, Hashem should bless His nation with peace’ (Uktzin 3:12).” There are many blessings we ask for, and many blessings granted to us from Hashem, but the only vessel that can contain and hold them for us is the vessel of peace. It sounds as if without peace, no other blessing can truly exist. So it makes sense that so many prayers and blessings end with one last plea for that all-important, and often elusive blessing of peace.

However, the Torah's concept of peace differs greatly from the secular definition. Most people would explain that a state of peace refers to a lack of fighting. In fact, Merriam-Webster Dictionary translates peace as “A state of tranquility or quiet, as: A) a state of security or order within a community provided for by law or custom, or B) freedom from civil disturbance.” While we do hope for this type of peace, this is not the שלום for which we yearn and pray.

The Gemara states, “כל אדם שאין לו אשה... רבא בר עולא אמר בלא שלום, any man who does not have a wife, Rava the son of Ulla says [he is] without שלום (Yevamot 62b).” What does it mean that an unmarried person does not have peace? He may be missing other things, but I’d think that the one thing he certainly has is peace! You can’t get into an argument with your spouse if you don’t have one!

It’s clear that our Sages don’t understand שלום to mean merely the lack of fighting, or “a state of tranquility.” The Hebrew word שלום originates from the root of שלם, meaning wholeness or being complete. A small puzzle piece out of context looks like something misshapen with no design. But when it connects with all of the other different pieces in the puzzle, it becomes whole, or שלם. True, a person who is unmarried may not have many arguments. But it’s the wholeness of a marriage, of people who are different in so many ways coming together like pieces of a puzzle, that creates שלימות, and in turn, the experience of שלום.

שלום בית is when each person in a home has the space to be his own person and discover his unique self, but lives in harmony and with mutual respect and care for those around him. And a home is but a microcosm of the world. Of course, we hope and pray that everyone should be able to live with a feeling of safety and security. But true שלום doesn’t just mean the lack of fighting, but an honor and respect for all people, those who are like you, and those are not. When we pray for שלום, we are asking Hashem to help the disparate people of the world not feel separated and alone, but feel like pieces that find their place as part of a greater whole.

Under the chupa, we shatter a glass to remind ourselves of the brokenness of our world, as symbolized and manifest by the destruction of the Beit HaMikdrash, a place that was a בית תפילה לכל העמים, a house of prayer for all of the nations. And that reminds to keep on praying and putting in our efforts to bring שלום in the world. Nothing is more sacred than the vessel of שלום, the Name of G-d, which contains within it all of the blessings.

So with that I wish you, and the entire world, שבת שלום - Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Fox

Sun, June 16 2024 10 Sivan 5784