It seems that a great many people in my life are in the midst of severe pain and struggle. Not everybody to be sure, but more than seems usual to me. I’m not talking about angst or frustration here, I’m talking about pain. Family members in the hospital, businesses in serious distress, the disruption and even destruction of life…pain. We all know that it’s very hard to know what to say when somebody hurts, especially when there is little or nothing that you can do to help. That being said I think that our words can help, even if it is just a little. I write the rest of this in that spirit.
During the shabbat meal it is my understanding that Jews bless one another with the words shabbat shalom. These are Hebrew words, found many times each throughout the Hebrew Scriptures (aka the OT if you’re a Christian like I am). Like every language there are some Hebrew words that are more pregnant with meaning than others, and these two words are among them. Simply translated shabbat means “rest” and shalom means “peace.” This rest is most clearly exemplified when God completes his work of creation and then rests on the seventh day (cf. Gen 2:2). It doesn’t simply mean to cease being active but carries the sense of respite and even celebration. I can’t think of an act or event in Scripture that exemplifies the total meaning of shalom, but suffice to say it means more than an end to violence. It also connotes safety (Ps. 4:8), prosperity (Ps. 35:27), calmness and comfort (Is. 26:3), and is among the characteristics of the future rule of God that we call Heaven.
Rest and Peace. These are the things that I wish and pray for my friends. Rest and respite from pain and toil and celebration when pain and toil cease. Peace, comfort and calmness within trials and joyful relief when those trials come to an end. And so to all of you who read this may these two great words, these pregnant words, these words that bend and groan under the weight of their own meaning be made real in your life. As I write this it is both the end of the Jewish Sabbath and the beginning of the Christian Sabbath. It’s also thanksgiving weekend. I can’t think of any better blessing to offer on this holy day than to say this: shabbat shalom.