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Netivot Olam II: Etymology of Shalom Part II

Based on a shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

Both the Written and Oral Torah refer to peace as shalom. However, the written Torah refers to conflict as riv while the Oral Torah calls it machloket. Machloket begins with the letter mem, an open letter. When you say about a person, “He did this and it’s wrong,” you create openings and vulnerable spots. This is the opposite of shalom, which is something perfectly whole. If you take away the mem from machloket, you get chelek, a fraction or a piece. The disjointed parts may be there but they are not joined together or a part of something bigger. There’s no possibility of them becoming whole.

The open mem is compared to turning on a faucet. When you open it, more and more water flows. The act of opening doesn’t predict where it will lead to. Machloket by its nature doesn’t dissipate. It’s like a camel’s hump that can take in all of the water and store it within. What keeps it going is falsehood and absence of reality We often see machloket that has nothing to do with the issue and everything to do with personality. It’s usually, “I’m right, you arer wrong. Why should you win? Why should I listen to you?” He’edar is when a person thinks, I should rule. But there’s no place for that. Hashem is the one who should rule. Machloket always means taking Hashem out of the picture and trying to put the crown on one’s own head. Hashem created us with the natural instinct of survival. When a person says, “I’m right, you arer wrong,” he’s really saying, “How can you kill me? My prevailing is my existence.” What a person is looking for on a deeper more conscious level is affirmation. You can’t get that through conflict. So people attempt to put more and more he’edar into the pot, which is like putting more and more oil into a burning fire.

Shalom doesn’t mean homogenization, that all pieces are the same. Rather we’re all pieces of the same puzzle. Shalom begins with the letter shin. In Hebrew, the letters of a word symbolize its message. Shin consists of a base with three lines jutting out, one to the right, one to the left, and one in the middle. This is in essence shalom. When there are two extremes, the middle line finds commonality and makes the final decision that will please both parties.

Avraham is symbolized by the right line which is chesed. Yitzchak is symbolized by the left line which is gevurah. Yaakov, the essence of Torah, is the line between them, called tiferet, harmony, which corresponds to peace. The middle stroke of the shin inclines a little to the left. We tend to like chesed far more than din. Talking about self-conquest will never get the same kind of audience that talking about kindness will. Therefore, the middle stroke has to move a little more to the left, which is din, to combat the inherent pull towards the right side, which is chesed.

Rav Shteinman and the Gerrer Rebbe make a point of traveling together to give chizuk (encouragement) to Jews around the world. They’ve been to France and Belgium and have plans to go to England. This doesn’t mean Rav Shteinman decided that Chassidut is the way to go.  Nor does it mean that the Gerrer Rebbe decided that the Litvaks were right all along. Both gedolim retain the individuality of their approach, while pointing out by their example and by the enormous respect they have for each other that it’s ok to work together. Shalom is not about an amalgamation, but about retaining individuality on the basis of truth.

The second letter of shalom is lamed, the highest of all the letters. Peace comes from a higher place. We could feel the beauty of individuality and how dependent we are on others. But from our vantage point, we cannot see the whole picture. Only Hashem knows what the puzzle should look like in the end. We have to be willing to admit that. We have to look above. The only way we can have peace between ourselves is if we cleave to Hashem. If we can let go of thinking that it’s only our own individual piece of the puzzle that matters, we will be able to see the interdependence between us. We see the beauty in the whole picture, and we can have shalom.

The last letter of shalom is the mem stuma, the closed mem. It is fenced in on all four sides, unlike a regular mem that has a little opening. True shalom is something closed. There’s no room to take over. A man of peace who cares about the larger picture doesn’t open the gate for machloket. If he wants to correct someone, he won’t involve other people. He will talk to the person following the laws of rebuke. If it’s necessary to consult others, he will do it in a way that won’t bring to machloket.

When there’s shalom among the Jewish nation, no enemy can attack us. The sinners are a part of the whole which includes the righteous people as well. There’s no vulnerable area where the Satan can accuse. Sometimes it may be hard to feel at one with a person who you feel may be doing something wrong. This stems from the tza'ar haShechina (pain of the Divine Presence) within us. When we feel something is not right, we can’t make peace with it. But we have to be willing as Jews to say, “This person is still a part of our people.” There is a bigger picture.

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