What does shalom, peace, really mean to you?
At the Rabbinical Assembly convention in Dallas this past week, I had a chance to explore this question while studying this week’s parshah, Behukotai, with Dr. Walter Hertzberg, who teaches Bible at JTS. The question arises because of a phrase early in the Torah portion, when God promises blessings if the People are obedient:
“Then I will give–venatati–your rains in their season, and the land shall yield–venatnah–her produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. And your threshing shall reach to the vintage, and the vintage shall reach to the sowing time; and you shall eat your bread until you are satiated, and you shall dwell in your land safely. And I will give–venatati–peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid…” (Leviticus 26:4-6).
As we do in our Thursday lunch n learn, Dr. Hertzberg had us look at the text and anticipate the commentaries by asking questions about words, phrases, sequence, and so on. Then we looked at EIGHT different commentators, each of whom taught us something profound about peace.
Here are the two main problems with the text. One, the same verb the Torah uses for tactile things such as rain and produce–“to give”–is used regarding peace, which is ephemeral and intangible. What does “to give peace” mean? What’s the force of that verb? Two, verse 5 ends with the words “you shall dwell in your land safely.” Doesn’t that imply peaceful conditions? Why, then, does the Torah promise peace in the very next verse? Is the text out of sequence?
Read the verses carefully and think about these questions. On Shabbat morning, we’ll explore two or three commentaries, and that can just be the start of the conversation about the essential meaning of shalom.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise