Oseh shalom bimromav, hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu, v’al kol yisrael, v;imru amen. May the One who brings peace to the heavens, make peace for us and for all Israel and let us say, Amen
Like lots of our liturgy, these words are inspired by the Bible. In this case, only the first three words. “Dominion and fear are with Him, who makes peace in the heavens.” (Job 25:2)
There is a Rabbinic Midrash which comments on how God makes peace in the heavens:
Rabbi Levi said: [The archangel] Michael is made of snow and [the archangel] Gabriel is made of fire and they stand next to each other and do not harm one another. (Midrash Devarim Rabbah 5.12)
This Midrash reflects the view that God made the world with conflicting elements built into it. AND God also created a world with the capacity to contain conflict–a heaven wherein fire and snow can live side by side in Shalom.
Liberal Jews have long felt that the liturgical formulation of Oseh Shalom is too nationalistic. We ask God to extend to us and all Israel the peace that exists in the heavens but, it appears, that’s where our concern can stop.
This tension of praying for peace only for ourselves, not including others made news in Israel this past year. At Shimon Peres’ funeral, his daughter Tzviya Walden, concluded the Mourners Kaddish for her father, “May the one who makes peace in the heavens, bring peace to us, all Israel and all human beings.” By adding four words, Walden suggested that a truer prayer would be one audacious in the pursuit of peace not just for us, but with our neighbors, in the spirit of her father’s life.
In my view, praying those words is spiritual resistance. It takes noble chutzpah to refuse to despair, to pray for peace even beyond our own borders. A prayer like this shines a light not into the world as it is, but into the world for which we hope.
While there are rifts that have divided our own country for some time, fear, hatred and delusion are more visible than ever. Spouses must avoid discussing certain topics. Parents are alienated from their children. Friends have unfriended friends. It’s hard to know what’s true, what’s false and who to believe. Perhaps we have something to learn from Tzviyah Walden: if we are tempted now to retreat into our homes, we need our prayers to remind us that our care and concern need to extend ever wider–beyond those boundaries to our neighbors, to the people on the other side of the aisle, and the other side of the world. Our new machzor concludes Kaddish “May the One who brings peace in the heavens, bring peace to us, all Israel, and all who dwell on earth (v’al kol yoshvei tevel).” While it’s not in the siddur, we’ve begun to say this on Shabbat as well.
One more thought: What is Shalom? the absence of fighting or war? Or does Shalom have a shape and form of its own? While often translated as peace or well-being, the word Shalom etymologically connotes “wholeness.” Avraham Isaac Kook, commenting on the Mishnaic phrase Rav Shalom, “great is peace,” notes that the word Rav which means “great” is related to the word Riv, which means argument or clash of opinion.
A great peace, Kook notes, is not one where unanimity reigns, or where there is a single color or hue, but rather where a profusion of flowers bloom, a rainbow of interpretations unfold, including some which seem to clash with and contradict others. Rav Shalom- the greatness of peace- is its ability to hold many colors, many varieties, many clashing elements in a spacious vessel.
At its most expansive, praying for Shalom is to wish another well, an expression binding us especially to those who are different from us, praying they will flourish alongside of us. And in times like these in which the diversity we so value seems under assault and when there is great uncertainty, I propose we practice the spiritual resistance of offering Rav Shalom. Let us pray for the Shalom like that between Snowy Michael and Fiery Gabriel in the heavens who can stand next to one another without harming each other, a world big enough to allow tensions and opposites to co-exist, to pray that Shalom will rest upon us, upon Israel and upon every variety of being that shares this planet with us.
I hope you will pray that alongside me in the coming days.