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Day of Peace

Mrs. Elana Moskowitz

On Shabbos we celebrate peace within and without

Wednesday, January 16, 2019




s an American expat living in Israel, I’ve encountered my fair share of Hebrew malapropisms, some more entertaining than others. But despite calling Yerushalayim my home for over two decades, there is one linguistic predicament I have yet to resolve that plagues me every Shabbos: the “Shabbat Shalom” versus “Gut Shabbos” dilemma. Litvish Israelis are partial to Shabbat Shalom, while chassidim and Anglos prefer Gut Shabbos. When choosing the appropriate greeting, I must decide: Is the approaching person an English, Hebrew, or Yiddish speaker? In moments of flurried indecision I have been known to resort to “Gut Shabbat” or “Shabbos Shalom.”


Light Brings Peace

The expression Shabbat Shalom is actually one aspect of an encompassing theme woven throughout Shabbos. Not only do we wish Shabbat Shalom, but we greet the malachei hashareis with Shalom Aleichem, and at Minchah we entreat Hashem for menuchas shalom v’shalvah. All Shabbos long, the noble attribute of shalom subtly winks at us. The most compelling reference to shalom on Shabbos, though, is when Jewish women fulfill their hallmark mitzvah: lighting Shabbos candles.

Maseches Shabbos (23b) teaches that if poverty necessitates choosing between lighting Shabbos candles or Chanukah candles, Shabbos candles are preferable because they foster shalom. Rashi (ibid) explains that our capacity for shalom is inhibited when we are consigned to sitting in the dark. A subsequent gemara powerfully articulates this connection: “U’b’makom she’ein ner, ein shalom — A place without candles lacks shalom” (Shabbos 25b). “For [one] walks and stumbles and treads in the dark” (Rashi).


Celebrating the World’s Completion

We can only imagine how integral the Shabbos candles were back in the pre-electricity era. Shabbos candles were responsible for ensuring that family members and guests safely navigated their surroundings, which contributed to a sense of shalom and wellbeing. But why does the Gemara specifically link the universal benefits of candlelight and shalom to Shabbos? Adequate candlelight was a concern all week long, after all, even on an unremarkable Tuesday evening.

Every year around Thanksgiving time, when accounts filter in of fretting housewives overwhelmed with the tasks of preparing a celebratory dinner, I enjoy a private chuckle. We do this every week! With Hashem’s help, we prepare three lavish meals for every Shabbos of the year. Indeed, what exactly are we celebrating with our banquet-like feasts? The She’iltos teaches that the Shabbos seudos celebrate the klila d’beisei, a completion of the house. Every week we partake in a chanukas habayis for the world, which on the first Shabbos in history reached an authentic state of completion. With our crystal and china, our elaborate meat and fish dishes, we share in the delight and wonder of sheleimus, a consummated world.


Clear as Day

“Vayehi erev, vayehi boker…” Why do we refer to evening’s darkness with the term erev, and daylight with the word boker?

The Maharal explains that erev (evening) and me’urav (combined) source from a common root. Darkness obscures differences. Under the cover of darkness, diverse objects blend into a homogenous cluster of “stuff”: Is this the table or the couch? Am I about to trip over a scooter or a hoverboard? In a sudden blackout, conventional items in my home coalesce into a jumble of shadows. I navigate my once-familiar abode like a fumbling blind man, spatial memory my only resource. In the dim light of erev, everything becomes me’urav.

Morning is my salvation. Derived from the same origin as bikur (distinguish), the boker (morning) casts light on the concealing shadows of night. The obfuscating darkness is illuminated with boker, and I can now differentiate between objects. This clarity of discernment is the dawning of shalom.

What are the origins of shalom? Our first thought is that unity engenders shalom, but this is only partially true. Sometimes a group unified for a common cause still suffers destructive infighting, especially when there isn’t a clear division of responsibilities or a well-defined hierarchy of power. True shalom derives from bikur, discernment. When I sort through an intermingled whole and distinguish between its composite parts, I can ensure that each component has a place maintained by boundaries. When every part is in its place, fulfilling its individual mission, shalom ensues. Shalom acknowledges that while differences exist, they need not engender chaos. Properly sorted and channeled, the differences perfect the whole.

In rare moments of tranquility, I reflect on the perfection of the world. From the meticulous construct of the genome and the orchestrated synergy of the body’s life systems, to the homeostasis of deep-sea life and the preservation instincts of the animal kingdom, millions of disparate parts work in systemic harmony. I am astounded by the innate shalom of Hashem’s world.

When I usher in Shabbos with candlelighting, I illuminate the dark corners of my home, and now everything is distinguished and clear. My brightened home generates positive energy, especially since my family will not fumble and trip. My Shabbos candles shed light beyond the walls of my home, too, as I celebrate the klila d’beisei, the chanukas habayis of Hashem’s world, and I rejoice in the sublime beauty of His completed masterpiece. Every part has a discernable function and place, reflecting an utterly perfect construct. His world resonates with harmony. My candlelight radiates the message of shalom.


Inner Peace

The shalom of creation, magnificent in its own right, is also a template for ourselves. Pirkei Avos (4:3) teaches: “Do not be disdainful of any person and do not be indifferent toward anything, for there is no person who does not have his hour and there is no thing that does not have its place.”

No person in this world is irrelevant. Hashem has tasked each individual with a mission to fulfill that is hers alone and inaccessible to anyone else. You can never fulfill my life’s purpose in this world, just as I can never usurp your unique life’s calling. We each contribute integral but diverse components, but not as an intermingled whole vying for the same piece of the pie. Rather, each person attends to her own separate life’s mission, and we share in the consummation of the whole. This perspective is the bedrock of shalom bein adam l’chaveiro.

Our candlelight projects the values of shalom inward, enlightening us for ourselves. In the Shemoneh Esreh of Shabbos Minchah we praise Hashem for “menuchas shalom v’shalvah, v’hashket u’vetach,” a rest day of shalom and serenity, tranquility and faith. Rav Uri Weissblum (He’aros Hatefillah) explains that the shalom of Shabbos should radiate inward, fostering internal serenity.

Sometimes when we dig deep and face our less attractive self, it stings. We resent ourselves for bringing up past mistakes of others, we recoil in shock at words that flew from our lips and we’re aggrieved at our inability to change fast enough. We wonder how the shadowy, dim parts of ourselves correspond with our decent and principled selves; which is the authentic expression of self?

When the menuchas shalom of Shabbos radiates inward, we achieve “shalom im atzmo,” shalom with ourselves. We cease to view ourselves as a roiling cauldron of contradicting qualities, but we accept the negative side of ourselves alongside the positive, recognizing they both have a time and place. We sort and set boundaries, reining in some qualities while emphasizing others, so they may work in tandem. Through acceptance of self, we attain “shalvah penimis,” the internal serenity that sources from shalom. Then we, too, embody the message of shalom.

When Shabbos descends, we celebrate shalom — in creation, between individuals and within.

Shabbat Shalom.

Originally featured in Family First, Issue 626. Mrs. Elana Moskowitz has been teaching in seminaries for nearly 20 years.


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