As you walk through the streets in Israel, you will constantly hear the greeting “Shalom,” followed by the reply “Shalom.” It means “hello” and “good-bye,” but not in the same way as we express our greetings in English. There is much more to the word “Shalom” than a casual greeting. The literal meaning of Shalom means peace. It refers to the absence of war, violence, strife between people, lack of loss and well-being. It includes circumstances externally as well as personally, which affects our welfare. In the absence of all that is unsettling, there is tran- quillity and peace.
One might wonder how is it possible to experience peace in this unsettling world of ours? The deeper meaning behind Shalom leads us towards an answer. In Hebrew, words are built on “roots,” generally of three consonants. When the root consonants appear with various vowels and additional letters, a variety of words, often with some relation in meaning, can be formed from a single root. Shalom comes from the root word SH.L.M (Shin, Lamed, Mem) and in it’s primi- tive form means wholeness.
True biblical shalom refers to an inward sense of completeness or wholeness. Although it can describe the absence of war, a majority of biblical references refer to an inner completeness and tranquillity. To greet someone with “Shalom” is to bless them with the absence of all that could be unsettling to them, and you bless them with well-being. If this is the way we understand biblical peace, then suddenly many verses take on a whole new meaning.
“Speak to Aaron and to his sons, saying, ‘Thus you shall bless the sons of Israel. You shall say to them: The LORD bless you, and keep you; The LORD make His face shine on you, And be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance on you, And give you peace.’” – (Numbers 6:23-26)
God told Aaron to bless Israel with peace while they were getting ready to go conquer the Promised Land. If peace means “the absence of war,” then this doesn’t make sense, since they would soon be destroying cities. God was refer- ring to an inner peace and completeness brought on by sharing in His counte- nance and His protection. That was the blessing that Israel needed! Israel was to rarely experience times of outward peace, but even in the midst of battle, they were to have an inward rest brought on by the presence of the Lord, regardless of the outward circumstances — so it should be for us as well.
Peace, lasting peace, transcends the situations and laws of our own personal lives because it doesn’t come from us. It comes from God. We are not in a posi- tion to attain peace ourselves. Yet, God promises all the qualities of shalom – wholeness, completeness, soundness, health, safety – to those who will look to Him.
Today, we light the candle of peace. May we remember that Christ is our Prince of Peace and as we look to Him may we attain true shalom, peace. Let us also be peacemakers by sharing God’s gift of uncontainable peace with others during this season of Christmas! Shalom!
By Joanna Solomon