שלום / Shalom
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We read or hear the word שלום (shalom) and immediately think of “peace.” This word is one of those Hebrew words that many people know. However, the definition of “peace” does not plumb the depths of the true meaning and idea of “Shalom.” Likewise, Shalom is used in contemporary Hebrew as a greeting. This is not a new contrivance. Shalom has been used as a greeting for millennia. In using Shalom as a greeting we might think that we are asking, “are you at peace”? However, the word shalom is far more incisive.
There are two ways in which we will approach our study of the word Shalom. The first will lexical. The second will be conceptual.
We will begin in brief with the lexical definition of Shalom.
Those who have an elementary understanding of languages know that words are usually based on word roots or foundations. This is the case with Shalom. Shalom is based on the Hebrew word Shalam. This is the parent word for all the words in the Shalom family. The lexical definition (in brief) for shalam is as follows. Being whole, complete, finished, restored, uninjured, safe, rewarded (especially for good), payed for services. It also means tranquility, well, free from fault, happy, mature, sound, blessed laughing and a covenant of peace. As a result, of the lexical ideas found in the parent word shalam the word shalom fosters the same fundamental ideas. For example the fuller meaning of shalom would be complete, sound, welfare, safety, health, prosperity, peace and friendship.
This broadens the scope of our understanding concerning the word Shalom. In the book of Bereshit chapter 43 and verse 27 Yoseph asks his brother about their father. The English text tells us that Yoseph asks about his “welfare.” The Hebrew text questions his “Shalom.” In many places the word shalom is actually translated as welfare, peace, safe and whole not to mention all the other possible translations. This being the case, Yoseph was asking about Yaakov’s health, well-being mental status as well as his complete state of being. In contemporary society we ask “how are you doing?” This is associated with the idea of having peace, shalom.
The English word “hail” is associated with the word shalom. When we greet one another with “hello” we are asking as to the welfare of the person we have entered into conversation with. Hello is derived from the idea of “hal” (hail – hail o). The word “hail” is an inquiry into a person’s wellbeing. The English word health is also based on the idea of shalom. Health is based on the idea of being “whole,” uninjured, sound and well. Health comes from the word “hale,” (being whole) and “heill” (healthy) halig, helge (holy, sacred) hælan (to heal).1 A point of particular interest is that health is associated with spiritual well-being or holiness.
The reflexive meaning of Shalom is “heshalam.” This word indicates achieving maturity. This is maturity through exercise. Our use of “exercise” here has nothing to do with physical exercise. Exercise is the exertion of requisite force necessary to achieve shalom – maturity. The concept here is that of pursuit of maturity through determining lack. The ideal heshalam is the evaluation and healing of the whole man. Restoration to wholeness must encompass the entire being. This means that the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of our being have been dealt with and we have achiever wholeness or shalom. Shalom is achieved by replacing or restoring what is lacking or lost.
Judaism from antiquity has held that there are five levels to the inner man. Each of the levels or aspects of the inner being deal with an area or level of maturity and wholeness (shalom). Man that is not “whole,” cannot have peace, shalom.
Bereshit 2:7 tells us that G-d blew the breath of life into the nostrils of Adam. The word for breath is naphach or neshamah. However, the word life, chay is plural. Here is an indication that Adam (humanity) is not a singularity. He is a multifaceted being. Christianity has tended to see man as a triune being (spirit, soul and body). This view is a limitation of the whole characteristics of the “inner man.”
The five levels of the inner man are as follows
The Nefesh or the soul. It is interesting to note that this word comes from the idea of being at rest. The Hebrew word nefesh is derived from nafash. The soul nefesh has not yet entered its state of rest. Therefore the nefesh is not yet whole.
The Ruach or spirit. The ruach is the spiritual part of man that is associated with the spiritual realities of this present world. The ruach is able to see beyond the natural order of events and look beyond eschatology. This part of our being reaches beyond the physiological aspects of the human being.
The Neshama or breath The neshama is associated with the Divine breath and voice. It is through the neshama that we hear and respond to the Divine voice. Herein begins the synthesis of the two worlds the spirit world of HaShem and the mundane world of the present.
The Chayah or Life. The chayah is often seen as the life force. However, the life force of mankind is G-d himself. The treasure in an earthen vessel spoken of by Shaul in his letter to the Corinthians (4:7) is the life force of G-d.
The Yechidah of Oneness. This part of the being is of particular interest to us. It is this aspect the produces unity and fellowship with HaShem and brings us to maturity. It is the aspect of the inner man the pulls us upward per se. Yechida is derived from two Hebrew words. The first being echad and the second being yichud meaning oneness and unity. Through this facet of our internal being we are able to maintain our close communion with HaShem.
We were created to have fellowship and communion with the Divine. In this life (olam hazeh) we are set in a struggle. That struggle is the yetzer hatov (positive, good inclination) against the yetzer hara (evil propensity).
Why the struggle? In the beginning G-d created the chaos as a part of the creation. Many theologians have tried to attribute the tohu v’vohu to the activity of the adversary. While this may or may not be the whole truth it did not come into being without the express will of G-d. As a matter of fact Jewish sources from antiquity suggest that the chaotic part of creation was intentionally created by G-d. The great question would then be, why?
Adam and Chava were placed in Gan Eden with a simple set of rules. Preeminent among those rules was not to eat of the tree of knowledge of evil married with knowledge of good. Again a question emerges, why would G-d place them in this garden where they might possible choose the forbidden fruit? The answer lies in the question. The answer is that G-d has given humanity the power of choice. Adam was not created as a robot with a set of preprogrammed actions and activities. The plan of G-d for the individual is sure and definite. Nevertheless, the plan of G-d for each individual must be based on freewill and personal choice. Likewise, man is appointed to maturity and perfection. Maturity and perfection are only achieved through expression of choice and struggle to express that choice. Therefore, the tohuv’vohu of creation is requisite within the framework of creation. Man’s struggle against circumstance, his propensity towards evil and adversary, is the only path to maturity, perfection and shalom.
Herein lays the schema of the entire sacrificial system in the Tanach. Shaul redundantly uses the phrase “flesh.” “Mortification of the flesh” is a reoccurring theme in his writings. The word “flesh” is associated with the Hebrew word בשׂר (basar). Basar is the meat of the body. Likewise, it is the meat of the קורבן “korbon” (animal sacrifice). The schema of the תמיד (daily tamid, daily korban – sacrifice) is the mastery of the “body – flesh.” The משׁל (mashal – illustrative image, parable) of the korbanot is the mastery of the yetzer hara.
The Hebrew word קורבן (korban) means to be brought near or draw close. The idea being conveyed in the mashal is that we draw close to or near to G-d through the mastery of our animal nature, the yetzer hara. The reflective idea of Shalom mandates this process. G-d has woven into the fabric of all creation the course of maturity. Shalom is achieved through struggle. However, the struggle is supposed to be predominantly inner struggle. The difficulty at hand is that the entire globe is involved in this struggle. Some of the characters have been specifically created for the purpose of opposition. Phro was one such example. His opposition and tyranny brought to fruition a nation selected and chosen of HaShem.
The Torah of G-d is a book of truth. It portrays life just as it is. Redundant in the Torah is the idea of struggle. Brother is often portrayed as opposing his brother. Kayin (Cain) murdered his brother Chavel (Able). Yoseph is pictured as despised and rejected by his brothers. His father Yaakov is pictured as being in opposition to Esav. Why all the contrast? The contrast is life and the path to maturity. One of the most outstanding books of the Tanach is built on this very ideal. Iyov (Job) is the picture of a man in adversity. In the end Iyov is a man of maturity and shalom. Shalom, we all want it. However, shalom is achieved through conflict. There can be no restoration of there has not first been lack.
Tikkun Olam / תִקוּן עוֹלם
A recurrent theme in Judaism is Tikkun olam (the healing rectification of the world). The idea of Tikkun olam is the repair and rectification of all the wrong that has been committed against all of creation. Tikkun olam is each person actively being involved at fixing his world. This was Iyov’s prime directive. He chased away evil. The opening statement of the book of Iyov tells us that he was a man who feared G-d and shunned evil. The Hebrew word used for “shunned” is סור (sur). Sur means that Iyov abolished or cut off evil. The remaining chapters of Iyov are the illustrative picture of evil being abolished in the life of Iyov. Not only does he accomplish the task of confronting personal evil per se, he achieves shalom. Iyov is a model of redemption. Likewise, the book of Iyov is a mashal of eschatology. The opening chapters of the book of Revelation depict Yeshua as a crowned Messiah. Immediately after his coronation he destroys, abolishes and cuts off evil thus establishing shalom. However, he does this with the army of G-d.
Do we just sit and wait for this advent? G-d forbid! We have been placed here to confront, abolish and cut off evil. The First Letter of Yochanan2 tells us that the Son of G-d was sent to destroy the results of evil. The term “Son of G-d” is multifaceted. It has the ideal the Kings of Yisrael, The B’nai Yisrael (children of Yisrael) and the Messiah as a reigning King. Herein is the occupation of G-d’s children. We must actively shun, destroy and cut off evil. Yeshua comes in the book of Revelation as the captain of the armies of Heaven. However, he has first selected those who are “more than conquers”3. I do not believe that Yeshua will select those who have resigned to escapism to be members of his army.
Ancient Hebrew is said to have developed from a picture form of words. The ancient word picture of “Shalom” (Shlom) spells out the concept of destroying (shin) the authority (lamed) that establishes (vav) chaos (mem). (See Shalam image)
While we tend to look at others as the source of our pain and suffering this is not always the case. This is not to negate the possibility of this being true. Yisrael has experienced throughout the dominate part of their history. Regardless, the dominate pursuit of the Jewish people has been the desire to walk out the Torah in their land in Shalom (peace.) Every imaginable obstacle has been laid before them. What makes us think that we will escape this same destiny? We claim life in Messiah as a shield to protect us against such things. However, we forget that all Yeshua’ talmidim suffered exactly the same dilemma. Maturity is achieved through struggle. G-d has established forces in the present world to challenge our desire for HaShem and the path of right. Freedom of choice is a battle against the power to choose good over evil and wrong.
So, what is the answer to Shalom?
Psalm 19:7-11 7 The Torah of the L-RD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the L-RD is sure, making wise the simple. 8 The precepts of the L-RD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the L-RD is pure, enlightening the eyes. 9 The fear of the L-RD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the L-RD are true; they are righteous altogether. 10 They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. 11 Moreover, by them Your servant is warned; In keeping them there is great reward.
The Torah of HaShem is perfect. It is able to “restore” the soul (inner man). Man’s restoration is possible by living a Biblically based lifestyle. The word “restore” in Hebrew is שוב (shuv) meaning to “return, bring back, answer or repent.” Herein lays the secret to success. We are able to bring back or produce the Shekinah of HaShem in this world through actively destroying the evil within our circle of influence.
Humanity as a whole has fallen into chaos and anarchy as a way of life. We will never experience shalom if we maintain this course of action. We must change course, shuv, return to the ways of HaShem if we are ever to establish and see shalom.
Redundant in the Torah is the conflict each character faced on his path to shalom, maturity. Many believers want to circumvent this process. Unfortunately, this is impossible. Conflict, chaos is a part of creation’s diversion. We have been given a body to accomplish the will of G-d. The body is the vehicle which we are given to accomplish mobility. However, many people have misinterpreted the vehicle. The vehicle is a means to accomplishing the will of HaShem. The vehicle is NOT the reason for being here. Shalom, means using the vehicle to bring peace, wholeness and restoration to our world.
Shalom and Justice
Shalom I the antithesis of injustice. In other words justice and Shalom are synonymous. A Rabbinic maxim reads “justice (shalom) at all costs.” 4 Shalom demands that we act justly with each other. The Rabbis believed in peace to the extent that nothing was more important. The foundation for a theocratic society is the Torah. The Torah (including the oral Torah) demands that we act justly with one another. The Fourth Seder (division – order) of the Mishna is labeled Neikim. This Seder is devoted to matters of civil justice and law. Within this Seder are procedures for legal matters and punitive codes for their infringement. Learning the Mishanaot (passages) of this order teach us a great deal about justice and shalom.
Creating an Environment of Shalom
The great question is where to begin. If the word shalom means complete, sound, welfare, safety, health, prosperity and friendship. We should try to the best of our ability to be the living example of this word and concept. By this I do not intend to make the accomplishment of material possessions a way of life. Rather I suggest the Biblical lifestyle of the Torah as a means of bring about the “shalom” (wholeness) of the entire believing community. As long as we are determined to focus on ourselves rather than the Torah and needs of others there will NEVER be peace (Shalom). This is the great dilemma of our present world. Too many of us have focused on the vehicle rather than the purpose for having a vehicle. As long as we make self (the vehicle) a priority we will never experience shalom. Likewise, those who do not master it here may have a great deal to learn before becoming a part of the Olam haba. The community of the Olam haba will be a community of shalom. This means that those who are a part of this community will have mastered the facets of Shalam – the root or parent of Shalom as well as all the fundamentals of Shalom.
Take the time to scrutinize your world. Where can you promote shalom? Look at your practices. Where can you become more involved in Tikkun olam? Shalom can NEVER be experienced by being self-centered! When we learn the truth that it is “more blessed to give than receive” we will be on the verge of global shalom.
- V’ahavta / You Shall love the L-rd with all your heart
- Introduction to the Mishna