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Peace is one of the hallowed Jewish values, along with justice and trust. The Hebrew word for this sacrosanct Jewish value is known as Shalom (שׁלום).
This word is derived from the root and denotes completeness and wholeness. Shalom also forms as a frame of reference all throughout literature and is usually associated with the notion of Shelemut, meaning perfection.
For this reason, its significance isn’t only limited to the political domain in regards to the absence of war. It also isn’t defined to social meaning, such as the absence of strife and quarrel. Shalom’s significance can range over numerous different spheres while also being referred to in differing contexts, such as physical conditions, moral value. It can even go as wide to be used in divine attribute and cosmic principle.
Shalom in Rabbinic Morality
Shalom is predominantly used to signify a value in rabbinic texts. It mainly denotes the overcoming of social tension, quarrel, strife, as well as preventing war and hostility. With that being said, it’s also depicted as a manifestation of divine grace and as a blessing.
However, shalom also appears in many sayings in a normative context stating that the pursuit of peace is the individual’s obligation and objective of a variety of social structures and regulations. Most of the passages involving the subject of peace are in regards to communal life and family.
Thus, stating that internal peace among the people is a major concern in the rabbinic texts. In contrast, little regard is placed on external relations between Israel and other states, nations, and people.
With all that being said, these two different realms aren’t always differentiated from each other. In fact, at times, these appear to be seen as continuous. An example of this reads as: ‘He who develops peace between his man and his fellow, between wife and husband, between opposing cities, opposing nations, opposing families and governments… no harm shall come to him’ (Mekhilta Bahodesh 12).
There are also a series of regulations ordained by the Sages referring to the interest of peace known as mi-pena darkhei shalom. That peace can also be used to affect relations between Jews and between Jews and the Gentiles.
The Sages contained great lengths of praise for peace, so much so that it was viewed as a meta-value, a summit of all other values. However, a possible exception to all these values could be justice.
There is much evidence to show that the primary purpose of the entire Torah was for peace. This can be demonstrated from Tanhuma Shofetim 18: Everything that is written in the Torah was written for the sake of achieving peace.
Shalom is also seen as the name for the Holy One, the name of the Messiah, and the name of Israel. However, shalom may not apply to the name of God for the sake of peace. In addition to this, other names in a similar vein are numerous.
God as the Peacemaker
With everything being said, the power of peace can sometimes go beyond the social-ethical realm and rather extend into the cosmic domain. The Holy One holds the power to bring peace between the lower worlds and the supernal, between the moon and the sun, among the supernal world’s denizens, and so on and so forth (Leviticus Rabah).
Among the various passages concerning peace, most of these claims that the pursuit of peace among men can deliver a heavenly blessing. However, this divine blessing is always in pursuit. Deuteronomy Rabah states this by saying, ‘How much more are the lower beings, who are sufferers of envy, rivalry, and hatred if the heavenly beings require peace while being free from this envy, rivalry, and hatred.
In passages like this, one can only wonder if the message of shalom is a lifestyle of living with peace that is continually needing to be practiced, or if it’s a destination that one finds and maintains for the rest of their immortal life. This simple word, shalom, meaning peace in Hebrew, is possibly more meaningful in Hebrew than in English.
However, does this meaningful nature spread across the language barrier? The question is something that many are going to answer differently. However, one thing that’s certain is this meaningful significance is something that’s implemented into the Jewish way of living. Whereas, in the English word, there are far too many cultures, religions, and beliefs for such a strong significance to be placed on one word: peace. The same can’t be said for shalom.