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Shalom in our soul

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The past 50 days have given us a new appreciation of our Jewish greeting: “shalom”. When I was a young boy, I was taught that “shalom” actually means three things: hello, goodbye, and peace, however, I realised some time ago that this actually isn’t the case. Shalom never means anything other than peace, it’s just that peace is something we want to wish on one another at every opportunity. We want to greet one another with a blessing of peace and part from one another with a blessing of peace.

There’s no question that our desire for peace comes in part from our long and bitter history of oppression and pain, but it primarily reflects the characteristically Jewish sense of hope, the belief in a better tomorrow. We’re the people who brought the world Yeshayahu’s vision of when swords will be turned into ploughshares, and nation will not raise sword against nation, yet we’re also a nation that’s vastly pragmatic and understands the sacrifices necessary to achieve peace. Although the Christian doctrine of “turn the other cheek” is in fact sourced from our Jewish tradition – I’ll be impressed if you can tell me where that quote is from – that perspective never dominated our worldview, and certainly not our security strategy. Rather, we took more seriously the words of Kohelet/Ecclesiastes: “There’s a time for war, and a time for peace.”

The war that Israel is fighting is a war not for the sake of war but for the sake of peace, for the sake of our children to be able to live in safety and our elderly not to have to worry about rushing to the nearest bomb shelter; for children not to worry whether their parents will come home, and for mothers and fathers not to fear for the safety of their young adults serving on the front lines.

It’s a vision of peace for which we must bear much and sacrifice much, and our level of gratitude and respect for those making the larger part of that sacrifice must be commensurately heartfelt. But it also explains why, with so much difficulty and challenge, so much heartbreak and pain, we can also feel so inspired – by the way we step up and stand behind our brothers and sisters; by the way our people are so committed to what’s good and right; but most of all by the vision we share of shalom – a shalom that will be a goodbye to some of the pains of the past and a hello to a beautiful future.

We say the prayer for Israel, beginning with the request for Hashem’s “sukkah of shalom” every week, but these past few weeks, we’ve all felt it much more powerfully in our kishkes. We all live at this moment in a sukkah of war, as it spreads over everything we do, everything we think, but with Hashem’s help, we’ll soon have that sukkah of peace in which we can bask, celebrate, and appreciate.

May Hashem bless us with the return of all hostages safely and soon to their families, and may we all have a lasting peace.

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