J2020 - Peace

Peace is central to Judaism. Along with truth and justice, some might argue that it is one of the three key Jewish values. For thousands of years our people have expressed in prayer, commentary and text our ultimate desire for a world that knows no war, not strife, no injustice... a world where peace reigns. Tonight we will take a deep dive into understanding the Hebrew word, the concept, and the value of peace!

  • What words do you use to describe "Peace"?
  • The Hebrew word for peace - Shalom, is best translated as wholeness or completion. How do these two definitions differ, or in what ways are they similar?


  • Based on the translation of Shalom alone, can you anticipate what Judaism might say about peace?

The Hebrew word for peace, ‘SHALOM,’ comes from a root meaning ‘completeness’ and ‘perfection’. So when there is peace in Jewish terms, that means things are perfect: there is calm, security, prosperity and a general feeling of physical and spiritual well-being. It doesn’t just mean there is no war.

In Hebrew, to ask someone how they are (“How are you?”) we say “Ma shlomcha?” ‘Shlomcha’ literally means ‘your peace’, so we are actually asking them “How’s your state of peace?” This shows how important living in a state of peace is in Jewish thinking.


And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. (Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3)

Hillel says: “Be among the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace…” (Ethics of the Fathers 1:12)

...בגמילות חסדים כתיב (משלי כא, כא) רודף צדקה וחסד ימצא חיים צדקה וכבוד ובהבאת שלום כתיב (תהלים לד, טו) בקש שלום ורדפהו וא"ר אבהו אתיא רדיפה רדיפה כתיב הכא בקש שלום ורדפהו וכתיב התם רודף צדקה וחסד

... With regard to acts of loving kindness it is written: “He who pursues righteousness and kindness shall find life, prosperity, and honor” (Proverbs 21:21), all of which apply in this world. And with regard to bringing peace it is written: “Seek peace and pursue it” (Psalms 34:15). And Rabbi Abbahu says: This is derived through a verbal analogy between the term pursuing written with regard to pursuing peace and the term pursuing written in another verse. It is written here: “Seek peace and pursue it,” and it is written there, with regard to acts of kindness: “Pursues righteousness and kindness.” This teaches that one who pursues peace will also merit life, prosperity, and honor.

  • What does our tradition demand of us in regards to peace?
  • According to these texts, when we actively work for peace what is our reward?


וַיָּבֹא֩ יַעֲקֹ֨ב שָׁלֵ֜ם עִ֣יר שְׁכֶ֗ם אֲשֶׁר֙ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ כְּנַ֔עַן בְּבֹא֖וֹ מִפַּדַּ֣ן אֲרָ֑ם וַיִּ֖חַן אֶת־פְּנֵ֥י הָעִֽיר׃

Jacob arrived safe in the city of Shechem which is in the land of Canaan—having come thus from Paddan-aram—and he encamped before the city.

...דכתיב ויבא יעקב שלם ואמר רב שלם בגופו שלם בממונו שלם בתורתו ויחן את פני העיר אמר רב מטבע תיקן להם ושמואל אמר שווקים תיקן להם ורבי יוחנן אמר מרחצאות תיקן להם...

...as it is written: “And Jacob came whole to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Paddan-aram; and he graced the countenance of the city” (Genesis 33:18). Rav said, the meaning of: And Jacob came whole, is: Whole in his body, whole in his money, whole in his Torah. And what did he do? And he graced the countenance of the city; he performed gracious acts to benefit the city. Rav said: Jacob established a currency for them. And Shmuel said: He established marketplaces for them. And Rabbi Yoḥanan said: He established bathhouses for them.

  • How does this text understand the concept of "inner peace"?
  • How does this differ from our modern understanding of inner peace?
השלום יש שלום לכם בבריאת הגוף כי אמנם הבריאות יהיה בשלום ההפכים וזה כשלא יתקומם אחד מההפכים על הפכו:

השלום? is he well (healthy) in body? Physical health consists of opposite forces in the body being in perfect balance with one another. [hence the word שלום, “being at peace, being in perfect harmony,” is an acceptable word for describing physical health. Ed.]

What do we learn here?

הלל אומר הוי מתלמידיו של אהרן אוהב שלום ורודף שלום אוהב את הבריות ומקרבן לתורה. ר"ל שיאהב בלבו האמת והשלום וירדוף אחריו בפועל ידיו. כי יש בני אדם אוהבים אותו בלבם לא שיטרחו עצמן לשום שלום בעולם ואינם הולכים בדרכי שלום אך העושין פעולה ומשימין שלום בין אדם לחבירו ואוהבים לעשות המלאכה כמו שנאמר (תהלים ל"ד י"ד) בקש שלום ורדפהו אותם הם מתלמדיו של אהרן שהיה עושה כדבר הזה:

Hillel says, "Be of the disciples of Aharon, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving the creatures and bringing them closer to Torah." He means to say that he loves truth and peace in his heart and pursues it with the actions of his hands. As there are people that love it in their hearts that don't trouble themselves to bring peace to the world and don't walk in the paths of peace. But those that do actions and bring peace between a man and his friend and love to do this work - as it is stated (Psalms 34:15), "seek peace and pursue it" - those are from the students of Aharon, who would act like this.

Here we get back to the active command to pursue peace - this time there is intrinsic benefit. What new information do we glean from this text?

Rav Hirsch on Chumash

The feeling of Shleimut that is the basis for Shlamim is strictly an actual feeling that can only be experienced by the individual. True, two or more individuals can together bring one Shlamim, for it is possible that their partnership and association are the very basis of their Shleimut. Indeed, association with other people is essential for a person's happiness; a decent human being will not feel Shalem when he is in complete isolation. But the Torah does not subscribe to the fiction of national happiness without the happiness of individuals. A nation as an abstract entity can have no Shleimut if its masses of people are suffering and in despair. The Shalom of the Jewish nation consists of the Shalom of its people. A Shlamim offering brought by the nation as an abstract entity has no place on God's altar.

Personal Shalom is as important in our tradition as national Shalom. This text seems to suggest national shalom hinges on personal shalom What do you think?


וְדִרְשׁ֞וּ אֶת־שְׁל֣וֹם הָעִ֗יר אֲשֶׁ֨ר הִגְלֵ֤יתִי אֶתְכֶם֙ שָׁ֔מָּה וְהִתְפַּֽלְל֥וּ בַעֲדָ֖הּ אֶל־יְהוָ֑ה כִּ֣י בִשְׁלוֹמָ֔הּ יִהְיֶ֥ה לָכֶ֖ם שָׁלֽוֹם׃ (פ)
And seek the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you and pray to the LORD in its behalf; for in its prosperity you shall prosper.

We are told that “He who establishes peace between man and his fellow, between husband and wife, between two cities, two nations, two families or two governments…no harm should come to him.” Mekhilta Bahodesh 12

Grant peace, welfare, blessing, grace, lovingkindness, and mercy unto us and unto all Israel, your people. In the Amidah (Daily Standing Prayer of 19 blessings)

In Israel’s Declaration of Independence
We extend our hand to all neighboring states and their people in an offer of peace and good neighborliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation … with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.

  • What is the Jewish understanding of "World Peace" - what's our role in it?
  • What surprised you about these texts?

To Study is to Pursue Peace

The whole Torah was given to make peace in the world (Maimonides, Laws of Hanukah 4:14).

A lifetime of studying Torah leads you here...

“We will make peace only when we learn that God loves difference and so, at last, must we. God has created many cultures, civilizations and faiths but only one world in which to live together – and it is getting smaller all the time. ”

“One day we will learn the lesson of peace, that war never solved any conflict in the long run; that in victory the victor too is defeated; that in conquering others we diminish ourselves; that only in and through peace do we honour the image of God that is mankind. ”

“Whenever Jews pray, we end with a prayer for peace and at that point we take three steps backward. To make peace you have to make space for someone else. You have to give up a little of your dream for the sake of someone else’s dream. ”

“I wonder if anyone who has not known the depths of Jewish suffering through the ages can understand how deeply the desire for peace is etched in the heart of almost every Jew ”

(Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks)