Sharing Shalom

By Jane Wabnik


We could spend days discussing what it means to people. There are so many examples:

  • Freedom from fear of abuse, sleeping well, knowing that one’s body and those of children in one’s care, will awaken smiling at a new day
  • Freedom from genocides (murders stemming from prejudices based in hatred and territorialism)
  • Freedom to live in one’s home, building contentment, having employment, food on the table, access to education
  • Freedom to worship as one wishes
  • Freedom from war, whether in other nations or in our own neighborhoods

In Judaism, Shalom is the highest attribute for the world in which we live. It permeates every level of existence. The usual opposite of Shalom in classical Hebrew is not milhamah (war), but mahloket, which means division, often leading to hostility between individuals, groups, or nations. Our job is to learn to live in Shalom with social, ethnic, and religious differences.

Regardless of one’s religion or philosophy of belief, in some way we are demonstrating faith. We are here to connect for the common good, to reach across boundaries, to share goals, to contribute to our future and the future of those yet to come – even if we will not be here to see it. We are planting a tree of life for today, and hopefully, in the future that tree will be sturdier because of what we do to nurture it.

In the Jewish community on Shabbat mornings, we recite a psalm and carry it within us throughout our daily lives:

You have my attention: which is a tenderness, beyond what I may say. And I have your constancy to something beyond myself.

The force of your commitment changes – we live in the sweep of it, taking courage, one for the other.1

By building our courage to improve the lives of people around us, we are sharing Shalom and giving people hope for the future. The sage Hillel said, “What is hateful to you do not do unto your neighbor. That is the entire Torah. All the rest is commentary. Go and learn it.” This is the essence of Shalom, respecting one’s neighbor, treating with dignity every living person.

But the question is, “How do we achieve this when there is deprivation, abuse, distrust, unwillingness to share, fragmentation even within families, scattering of what we call support systems?” Rabbi Elana Kanter of The New Shul tells us that if we are to try to heal the vast array of rifts in our families, in our communities, and in the world, we must think deeply on something that seems simple: our lives are interwoven with the lives of every other human being, with all who dwell on Earth.

So we must walk together today in peace, in Shalom, as part of our journey to heal our communities. This, too, is part of a basic tenet of Judaism: that we strive to heal the brokenness of the world, even as we know we cannot complete the task. Yet we are responsible for beginning it, taking the first step. Part of Shalom is justice, and to heal the world, “Justice, justice shall you [we] pursue.”

Where to begin? Shalom Bayit, “household peace,” is a place to start. Peace, throughout our communities, our nations, our world, often stems from a peaceful atmosphere at home. This means much more than the absence of strife. It means open communication and freedom to express oneself respectfully without fear. When we allow envy and contention in our homes, we diminish Shalom inside each of us, which means we have less to give to others and to world around us.

Additionally, ignoring people in our families, our homes, often leads to terrible personal consequences, like drug abuse, for example, which in turn can easily destroy the well-being of others in our homes and circles of relationship.

How else can we develop Shalom? Janusz Korczak was the pseudonym of Dr. Henryk Goldszmit, a Polish pioneer of children’s rights. He was physician, educator who dedicated his life to Jewish and Catholic orphans and lobbied for a Declaration of Children’s Rights long before any such document was created. He saw Shalom residing in children and believed strongly in the need for respect and dignity. He wrote the following:

I offer a plea on behalf of respect for the here and now, for today. How can we assure life in the future, if we have not learned how to live consciously and responsibly in the present? Do not trample, hold in contempt or sell the future into bondage. Do not stifle it, rush or force it. Respect every single moment, as it will pass and never again be repeated.

During World War 2, Janusz Korczak, who was Jewish, was forced with Jewish orphans to relocate to the Warsaw Ghetto. In 1942, when the Nazis ordered all the children to Treblinka, he was offered the chance to escape but refused to abandon the children. Eyewitnesses reported that he led two hundred orphans to the carriages that would take them and him to the gas chambers. Children marched with heads held high, singing and holding the flag that Korczak designed for them. He led the group, holding a child in each hand. He was saluted by ghetto police in recognition of this act. And if you are wondering? Yes, these children knew about the death camps.

Rabbi Mari Chernow of Temple Chai teaches us that our spiritual journey requires reveling in the glory of this magnificent lifetime while at the same time reckoning with its darker side. We must do this every day if we are to continue to pursue of goal of Shalom for the communities we care about, for our state, and for our nation.

When Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched with Martin Luther King Jr., he said that he was praying with his feet. When Lutheran Martin Buber wrote about his dialogue with God, he did not exclude person to person, community to community, nation to nation dialogues. When we are together with others in a room, even people we don’t know, people who are different, that moment we living Shalom, hopefully to carry it outside of the room and into our daily actions as we work with others.

I’ve written a short poem, which begins with one speaker and quickly moves to another, expresses some of the meaning of Shalom. It’s called “Meeting.”

Hello, old friend,” he seemed to say (a smirk had filled the air).

Will you, perchance, be on your way to see the people dance and cheer as they will crown the cavalier?”

I looked around, I turned to see if others walked this route with me.

Alone, I was, no one was there. I stopp’d, I stood, I turned to stare,

And saw my shadow standing there.

Why no,” I answer’d, feeling affrighted, feeling grayness – seeping, blighted,

Reaching out to grasp with soiled hand restless seekers of a new land.

I looked around, I turned to see that others walked this route with me.

Alone, not I! Someone was there. I stopp’d, I stood, I turned to stare, and saw some people standing there.

Hello, old friend,” they seemed to say (a hope had filled the air).

Will you, perchance, be on your way to help the people work and dream to build a world of high esteem?”

I joined them then, I turned to go, I felt they knew what I should know.

I stopp’d, I stood. I turned to stare, and I saw Dignity standing there.

And so, hope and dignity, Shalom, will be our goal.

Cantor Emerita Sharona Feller of Temple Chai recently shared some of Trisha Arin’s blog about Shalom, part of which reads:

There will be hope and renewal and clarity.
If I walk toward it.
If I let it.
If I allow it.
If I permit it
If I open up to it
If I consent to it.
If I give in to it.
If I walk toward it
The world changes for one day.

To which I add – may we learn to be this way every day.


Jane, an activist in the Jewish community, has become a dear friend. She is deeply involved in community service.


1 Mishkan T’Filah, a Reform Siddur, the 2007 edition, p.225

This entry was posted in Spiritual Life. Bookmark the permalink.