By David Jones
Shalom is a wonderful Hebrew word, having more meaning than we usually get in our “rapid definitions” world. We don’t abide with language like we should. Language is sacred.
We usually translate shalom as peace, because modern usage and Westernization say so, but it actually means “completeness” or “wholeness.”
In his article The Deeper Meaning of Shalom, Rabbi David Zaslow wrote, “It comes from a Hebrew root-word that means ‘wholeness.’ And what is wholeness? In the Hebraic way of thinking, wholeness is the joining together of opposites.”
In practice, folks say “Shalom” the way folks say “Aloha” as both a greeting and a farewell. What could be the opposite of “coming” more than “going,” of “Hello” than “Goodbye?” And yet both join together to make up a life in motion. As Rabbi Zaslow observes, “There is a hidden connection to all our comings and goings; they are wondrously linked together.”
It’s the same relationship between yin and yang.
Separating the light from the dark may be preferable or even necessary at times, but the result is never a complete whole. Dark and light are opposites, but they’re natural and necessary opposites.
It’s actually the joining together of our light and our dark which brings about equilibrium, balance, and yes, peace.
We don’t like to think that way, though. Our darkness disturbs us and our light gives us a sense of security. Some folks shun their darkness just as others revel in it. Clinging to or avoiding one half of our complete selves leads to imbalance. We try to envelop ourselves with one aspect and thus never have to acknowledge the other.
But that’s not life, you know?
Peace is knowing both opposites exist and finding ways to be okay with that. No, you know what? Peace comes along when we learn to honor our light and our dark. And if you prefer non-binary thinking, learn to honor your light and your dark and all of the shades of gray which connect them (even if there are more than 50 shades).
But can shalom apply to the big, angry, divided world we live in? Absolutely! In fact, I think it’s the best approach.
So often—too often—we create division with folks we don’t agree with, label the folks on either side of that division, and then relate to each other based on those labels. “I’m the light, they’re the dark.” From there we might even start wishing the other side just didn’t exist.
“Things would just be so much better if they weren’t here with their disgusting viewpoints and stupid opinions.” And while I say that about them, they say it about me.
The taijitu (the yin-yang symbol) is rooted in Taoist philosophy, and is properly seen as balance and completeness. Remove one side and the circle is no longer complete. But even if you don’t remove anything, you can overemphasize one side or the other and mess up the balance. In the taijitu the two sides are exact opposites—mirrors of each other.
So when we feel angry over the views, habits, or expressions of someone because they don’t line up with ours, it might help to see that they are just mirrors of us, as we are of them. Balance isn’t achieved by light canceling out darkness, nor by shade erasing illumination.
Does that mean that views/beliefs/practices which seek to harm others should be embraced in the interest of balance? No! But simply dismissing folks who hold them doesn’t help matters.
Rabbi Zaslow wrote, “Shalom is the most radical union of opposites imaginable. Shalom brings together people who disagree with each other so that each will listen deeply to the ‘other’ side. It is the people you do not agree with who have the greatest gift for you—the gift of the potential for wholeness.”
And this helps us understand the danger of living in a bubble, where everyone with us believes or sees things the same way we do. It provides an illusion of safety and comfort, but also diminishes our wholeness. We find ourselves drifting closer to either our yin or our yang, and farther from the balance of both.Balance isn't achieved by light canceling out darkness, nor by shade erasing illumination. ~ David Jones #balance Click To Tweet
I’m not going to tell you what to do about all this, though. Not my place. And I’m not saying I’m already balanced, because I’m not. I’m speaking from a place of frequent and chronic imbalance. And I’m not saying we have to go engage anyone online with whom we disagree, because if anger and recriminations are the only result then it’s not healthy and it’s not helping anyone. There’s usually no value in feeding trolls.
Even if we don’t do anything to change, I think it’s still valuable to examine ourselves, to recognize our own balance or imbalance, our own wholeness or partialness as a part of knowing ourselves and growing. But shalom must be offered willingly.
If “peace” is forced upon someone, is it really peace?
I bid you shalom—may you be whole.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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