Nasso - THREE KINDS OF SHALOM
A BEAUTIFUL STORY in the Midrash relates that when the Mishkan-the Tabernacle that Moses built in the desert--was completed and about to be dedicated, the great Prophet was anxious to hear the message that the Almighty would want to be transmitted to His people on that auspicious occasion. As Moses entered the environs of that sacred edifice he heard the strains of a melodious voice and the message consisted of but one word-shalom--peace.
This lovely tale informs us that the noblest ideal of our people is shalom. The priestly benediction which is in our sidrah, concludes with the verse yisa ha-Shem panav elekha veyasem lekha shalom-"The Lord lift up His countenance unto you and give you peace" (Num. 6:26). Thrice a day a Jew prays for it in the Shmoneh Esreh. Sim shalom, he says. "Grant peace, good and blessing." It is one of the pillars on which the world rests. As Rabbi Simeon ben Gamliel puts it, "On three things the world is firmly established: on truth, justice and peace" (Abot 1:18). The position of the word peace at the end of the sentence suggests that peace can come to mankind only if it is preceded by truth and justice. When emet and dinare eliminated, or even weakened, there can be no true peace or security in the world.
The Hebrew word shalom, however, has several shades of meaning. Some of them are only indirectly related to peace. Sometimes it implies calm, tranquillity, the state of being undisturbed. This is the land of quality that one detects in people who are not involved with the problems that beset the community or the nation. They are not concerned and not involved and therefore are at peace. It is the kind of tranquillity that Noah experienced when he was told of the Flood that would wipe out practically all living things. Some of the sages disapproved of Noah yesh dorshin eto li- gnai. Some said that this was shameful of him (Rashi Gen. 6:9). He saved himself and his family in the ark and watched the world perish in the deluge. That type of a man is a tzadik bedorotav. He is righteous only in comparison with the wicked people of his generation. Had he lived in the age of Abraham, so the sages say, he would have accounted for little. One who remains at peace with himself while the world is drowning is, to put it mildly, a knapper tzadik-not much of a tzadik.
This is also the peace of the hermit who runs away from society and hides in the cave. There was a sect of Jews who did just that. Members of that group were known as Essenes. History attests to the fact that we had no nachat from them.
Judaism opposes the doctrine of shalom elayich nafshi, of seeking peace only for oneself.
Then there is another type of peace, one that is synonymous with stagnation. It is the peace that one finds in the cemetery. In the memorial for the dead we say veyanuach al meshkavo beshalom. "May he rest in his grave in peace." The best illustration of that kind of peace is the Dead Sea in Galilee. It is a tranquil body of water, and because of the minerals in it one can float on it easily. But it has no semblance of life in it. In fact, that is the reason why it is known as the Dead Sea. It gets water from the Jordan but does not share any of its waters with other rivers or streams. As a result, it is saturated with all kinds of salts. But since it has no outlets and gives nothing to other bodies of water, it is sterile and cannot sustain living things. Like the mythical daughter of Midas, it is all gold, but without a breath of life.
The third type of shalom is the ideal. It has to do with shlemut-with wholesomeness and perfection. This word is especially applied to the Patriarch Jacob. "And Jacob came shalem" (Gen. 33:18). On which the sages comment shalem be-gufo, shalem be-marnono, shalem be-Torato-physically healthy, financially secure, and spiritually strong (Rashi ad hoc).
I began my message with a beautiful story and would like to conclude with another. A legend relates of a meeting of animals and birds that took place in the forest. At the conclusion of that gathering someone asked the lion why he thinks he deserves to be king. And he explained that his claim to royalty was due to the fact that he was able to produce the most powerful roar of all. To prove his assertion he roared a terrible roar that frightened the birds and the animals who attended that meeting. After a while, when it became quiet again, the thrush spoke up and said, "While it is true that you are able to produce the most powerful roar, your voice is strong only in the beginning. It grows weaker and less audible as the distance increases. A mile or so from this place no one can hear you at all. My voice is weak compared to yours, but as I begin to sing other birds and creatures join me in song, and after a while the entire forest is filled with melody and music."
The true man of peace is not the one who has a powerful roar and frightens others into quiet and submission, but one who like the thrush and the nightingale can bring about a sweet harmony of cooperation.
When a person is involved with the needs of his people, when his business practices are honest, when his intellectual and spiritual relationship with God are beyond reproach, he helps create a symphony of love and joy and endows himself and the world with the blessings of true shalom.