Origins of shalom
Leshon Ima – Mother Tongue with Dr.Rachel Zohar Dulin, Special To The Dayton Jewish Observer
Jewish history, from biblical times to the present, is marked by struggle and by the yearning for peace. It is not surprising that shalom is a key word in our language and our tradition.
The wish for shalom al Israel, peace upon Israel (Psalms 125:5) resonates national and individual aspirations for security and tranquility. It is to the word shalom I wish to direct our attention.
Shalom appears 237 times in the Bible in various meanings. In most references shalom means tranquility, security, peace and wellbeing.
However, shalom also means health, welfare, completeness and safety.
Scholars disagree as to the root of the word. Some claim it is related to the Aramaic verb sh’la meaning be quiet, be at ease, tranquil and even thoughtless and careless. They point to the Hebrew word ashlaya meaning deception as a concept derived from the same root.
Other scholars connect shalom with the verb shalem meaning complete or whole. It is the same root from which the words tashlum, payment, and shilumim, reparations, are also derived and allude to the completeness of a transaction.
It is interesting to note that although the Hebrew shalom and Arabic salaam have a similar origin, meaning and sound, the Hebrew emphasizes the meaning of wholeness and in Arabic it resonates the word Islam which requires surrender.
Many are the Hebrew phrases in which shalom is at the center. Shalom or shalom aleichem, peace be upon you, and the greeting mah shlomcha, how are you (for a man) and mah shlomech (for a woman), are probably the most recognized Hebrew greetings.
We should also mention the expression derishat shalom, a way to send greeting to someone that literally means ask for someone’s welfare (Deut. 23:7).
In the common phrase hakol yavo al mekomo beshalom, meaning all will settle peacefully at the end, shalom is used to express optimism, assuring a positive resolution to an issue (Ex. 18:23).
We should also mention the phrase sh’lom bayit, peace in the house, referring to an harmonious household (Shabbat 23) and the peaceful greeting Shabbat Shalom on Sabbath day.
The phrase alav or aleha hashalom, literally peace upon him (or her), is a respectful saying to remember the dead.
In closing, our tradition teaches that three principles assure the survival of a civilized society: din (law), emet (truth) and shalom (Avot 1:18).
It is not surprising that the prayer, “Oseh shalom bimromav, The One who makes peace in His heights (Job 25:2)” is repeated time and again in the Jewish liturgy.
It expresses the endless hope that, “Hu yaaseh shalom alaynu veal kol Israel, He will bring shalom upon us individually, and shalom to all of Israel,” collectively. And let us say: Amen.
Dr. Rachel Zohar Dulin is a professor of biblical literature at Spertus College in Chicago and an adjunct professor of Bible and Hebrew at New College of Florida.