Shalom and the Priestly Blessings

Peace isn’t merely the absence of war or strife. It means completeness, perfection.

This week’s Torah Portion (Naso: Numbers 4:21-7:89 ) contains one of the oldest prayers in the world still in continuous use and that is the priestly blessings.

And this is not just within Judaism, but also very common in all Christian circles as well.

22 YHVH said to Moshe, 
23 “Speak to Aaron and his sons, and tell them that this is how you are to bless the people of Israel: you are to say to them,

24 ‘May YHVH  bless you and keep you.
25 May YHVH  make his face shine on you and show you his favour.
26 May YHVH  lift up his face toward you and give you shalom.’

27 “In this way they are to put my Name on the people of Israel, so that I will bless them.”
– Numbers 6:22-27

This amazing prayer informed the people of Israel that they were HaShem’s People, that He was placing His Name, His character, His strength and protection on them to bless them and give them shalom (peace). When used by anyone today (and not just the Levite priests) it also signifies a desire to bless the hearers with an attachment to the Almighty and with His Peace.

In an analysis of the blessing by the 15th century Spanish Jewish commentator Rabbi Isaac Arama he argued that shalom does not mean merely the absence of war or strife. It means completeness, perfection, the harmonious working of a complex system, integrated diversity, a state in which everything is in its proper place and all is at one with the physical and ethical laws governing the universe.

Read that again. What an amazing situation to live in if you could have such shalom!

Similarly, Isaac Abrabanel writes, “That is why God is called peace, because it is He who binds the world together and orders all things according to their particular character and posture. For when things are in their proper order, peace will reign” (Abrabanel, Commentary to Avot 2:12).

Peace though is easily damaged and hard to repair.

We seem to spend a fair portion of our lives seeking to restore peace and harmony in relationships. When the proper order of things is damaged it is very shocking and sad how far we can fall from peace and harmony! There is perhaps no more striking example than the loss of peace in a marriage where much love and joy first abounded. The quick and very harsh loss of this shalom that can lead to separation and possibly divorce is most saddening.

In reflecting again on this amazing and uplifting prayer, I think we need to speak it and seek it more often; first in our personal lives and also in our communities and nations.

And I suspect we should seek to better understand how to maintain peace within our relationships as well, so as not to fall too far from it.

I discuss some approaches to maintaining peace in a few of my articles such as these:

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