In the Hebrew Bible, the word shalom, usually translated as peace, means more than the absence of conflict; it connotes a secure sense of well-being and wholeness (the latter is perhaps the best literal definition). The word appears hundreds of times in the Bible, in all kinds of contexts: individuals, cities, nations and even the whole world at various points seek peace and, in the words of the psalmist, pursue it. In fact, the rabbis even taught that Shalom is one of the secret names of God. (Leviticus Rabbah 9:9) Many of the Bible’s eloquent expressions of peace are echoed in the siddur, the Jewish prayer book, and in wider culture. Here are some of the most loved.
Thus shall you bless the people of Israel:
May the Lord bless you and protect you.
May the Lord deal kindly and graciously with you!
May the Lord bestow favor on you, and grant you peace.Numbers 6:23–26
This is the famous blessing Aaron, the first high priest used to bless the people, and later the Jewish priests in the Temple would do the same. Today, it is still recited in synagogues by descendants of the priests, and parents use it to bless their children on Friday night.
Her ways are pleasant ways,
And all her paths, peaceful.
She is a tree of life to those who grasp her,
And whoever holds on to her is happy.Proverbs 3:17–18
Common Jewish interpretation holds that the Tree of Life described here in the Book of Proverbs, whose paths lead to peace, is not the tree found in the Garden of Eden but the Torah itself. It is sung liturgically when the Torah is removed from the ark for the Torah service.
Peace! Peace! Near and far — said the Lord — and I shall heal them.Isaiah 57:19
The prophet Isaiah was known for recording many poetic exhortations from God. Some, like this one, offer words of profound comfort, promising the people completeness — peace. In fact, the sense of wholeness and healing (not just absence of war) evoked by this passage is an essential meaning of the word shalom.
Yea, you shall leave in joy and be led home in peace.
Before you, mount and hill shall shout aloud,
And all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.Isaiah 57:19
This verse, also from Isaiah, describes the homecoming of the Jewish people after their difficult exile in Babylonia. The prospect of returning home to live in peace is so joyful that all of nature celebrates.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem;
May those who love you find serenity.
May there be wellbeing within your ramparts,
serenity in your citadels.Psalms 122:6–7
The psalms are some of the best and most-loved examples of early Jewish prayer — and are used in Jewish prayer constantly to this day. This line from Psalm 122 asks for peace in Jerusalem and is frequently set to music.
Turn from evil and do good.
Seek peace and pursue it.Psalms 34:15
This is one of the most succinct and oft-quoted biblical verses about peace. It captures both our yearning for peace and our obligation to bring it about. Many Jewish texts, including some here, describe God as the source of peace. Many others imagine us as partners with God, working actively to bring about this ideal state.
In peace I lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, keep me secure.Psalms 4:9
This line from Psalms expresses the security and peacefulness that faith in God can impart.
May the Lord grant strength to his people;
May the Lord bless his people with peace.Psalms 29:11
This is the final line of Psalm 29, the entirety of which is recited as part of Kabbalat Shabbat services. It expresses the hope that God will bring peace to the Jewish people.
Speak the truth to one another, render true and perfect peace in your gates.Zechariah 8:16
Just a few lines below this, the prophet Zechariah puts it even more succinctly: “You shall love truth and peace.” (Zechariah 8:19) Zechariah sums up two of Judaism’s most important values, which he took to depend critically on one another — peace and truth. However, interestingly enough, the rabbis said that of the two, peace was primary and sometimes the only one achievable. They cite Genesis 18, noting that when Sarah complained that her husband was too old to have children, God reported this complaint inaccurately to Abraham, saying that Sarah had said she herself was too old — a “white lie” meant to maintain peace between husband and wife. (Leviticus Rabbah 9:9)
He imposes peace in His heights.Job 25:1
People familiar with Jewish liturgy might recognize this better in the Hebrew: oseh shalom bimromav. In its original context in the Book of Job is is an expression of God’s wise rule of the upper realms. As the first line of Oseh Shalom, it is one of the most recognizable Jewish prayers for peace, which is found in the conclusion of the Mourner’s Kaddish.