Oseh Shalom is both a song and a prayer that encapsulates the Jewish longing for peace, acknowledging God as the source of the blessings of peace and wholeness. As for Oseh Shalom as a prayer, it is said to be based on Job 25:2 and is often recited or chanted at the end of the Kaddish and the Amidah, but can be said at other times in Jewish liturgy. Arguably, it may not even be a prayer for peace so much as an insistent plea to God that He impose peace upon the Jewish people.
Very little history has been uncovered on the origins of this prayer.
In 1967, the liberal movement in the United Kingdom added the words v’al kol b’nei adam (“and all the children of Adam"), which would refer to all of humanity rather than simply all of the Jewish people. This variation has taken root in some communities, including the Reform Jewish community in America. Other variations that have taken off in various parts of the world to try to extend peace to not only one family, congregation, and community, but all of humanity, include v’al kol yoshvei teivel (“and all who dwell on Earth”) and v’al kol ha’olam (“and the whole world or universe”).
“He who makes peace in the highest, may He make peace for us, and...
... for all Israel, for all people, for all who dwell on Earth, and for the whole world.
And let us say, Amen.”
As one rabbi described Oseh Shalom, “Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, and falsehood. The liturgical movement must become a revolutionary movement, seeking to overthrow the forces that continue to destroy the promise, the hope, and the vision.” As another rabbi described Oseh Shalom, “The use of his words reflects a subtle acknowledgment that the quest for peace in heaven and on earth belongs to everyone, not only Jews.”
Musically, it is not the traditional ancient Jewish song that many may assume it to be. Rather, it was written based on an old-time Israeli folk melody by a renowned Israeli composer by the name of Nurit Hirsch in 1969. Oseh Shalom, as a song, was then first sung by Yigal Bashan at the first ever Hasidic Song Festival. Hirsch’s composition won third place at the music festival but took off in popularity throughout Israel after the Yom Kippur War broke out in 1973, when the song was performed in an hour-long broadcast to the nation.
Since then, the song’s popularity has spread to synagogues and Jewish communities throughout the world. There have been other versions of the song since then, with Debbie Friedman’s version being well known by many, though Hirsch’s version is the original version of the song.
Some versions of Oseh Shalom as a song may be more upbeat and danceable, while other musical arrangements may be slower and more somber or melancholy in tone. However, it is generally considered a joyful song that is sung at various Jewish events and sometimes during public prayer as well.
In recent events with tensions between Israel and Hamas, a video went viral online of some Jewish as well as gentile Japanese citizens singing Hatikvah at the busy Shibuya train station, followed by signing Oseh Shalom outside of the Israeli Embassy in the Japanese archipelago. Oseh Shalom has also been sung at various events over the decades commemorating Israel’s statehood.
May we pray for peace in Israel and the Middle East and for our innocent brothers and sisters suffering in Israel and the Gaza Strip who want to live their lives in peace (not all of whom may not agree with what their governments are doing and who may not necessarily feel safe voicing a dissenting perspective). May we pray for those innocent civilians who have lost families, homes, loved ones, neighborhoods, and their livelihoods in the tragedy of war, and for all of Jerusalem. May we pray for those in need around the world, Jewish and Gentile, whether it be physical or humanitarian needs and/or those needing to learn more about Yeshua’s life, death, resurrection, and love for each of us.
For those of us who God calls to assist practically beyond prayer, perhaps in even taking the gospel to the warzone itself or assisting in humanitarian relief efforts may that be how the Lord impresses upon you and leads you…may the Lord go with you and bless the works of your hands and the words you speak as you faithfully fulfill all you have been called to do.
May we never forget that all human beings are worthy of certain basic dignities, created in the image of God as His precious children. May we attempt to discern the whole truth and nothing but the truth and not be merely swept up in narratives established by the media without praying, seeking discernment, fact-checking, question-posing, verifying authenticity, and thinking critically. May we not forget that the first causality of war is often the truth.
For those of us who are blessed with peace in our corners of the world, while we pray, may we not lose sight of using the relative freedom and peace we have been blessed with to share and deepen our understandings of Yeshua and His truths with others within our sphere of influence, as God calls each one of us.
Yeshua died for all of His children, not only His children and lost sheep in Israel but also His children living in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and the Arab countries. In complicated geopolitical and socioeconomic situations where we cannot possibly understand all the nuances of the historical, cultural, religious, and socioeconomic overtones in this region as armchair foreigners looking in from the safety of our homes and computer/i-gizmo screens thousands of miles away, coupled with the spiritual warfare aspects as satan would love nothing more than for Jewish people and Palestinian people to perish without knowing the truth of their Messiah, may our words and rhetoric be chosen carefully not close doors to future evangelism and outreach that may be done in these underreached portions of the world to reach these people with the news of their Messiah.
While we pray for the peace of Jerusalem, we do not inadvertently alienate souls we one day hope to reach the news of the One who can save them for eternity and the only one who can bring lasting peace.