Written by: Erin Parfet

Shalom Aleichem

shalom aleychem articleShalom Aleichem ("Peace Be Upon You") is not only a traditional beloved greeting and message of farewell among the Jewish people when they meet (first scripturally appearing in Genesis 43:23 and further referenced in Judges 6:23), but is also the title of a commonly sung poem universally sung at Friday night Shabbat meals. The term "shalom" itself has broad linguistic applications as possibly a noun, interjection, verb, or adverb and can be used either independently as a greeting or in various expressions such as "shalom aleichem." As per the Talmud, it is required for Jews to greet one another bearing messages of peace (and if one offers peace to you, then you are required to respond with a message of peace lest you rob another of their peace).

As a poem, Shalom Aleichem is believed to have been first written by kabbalists from northern Israel in the 16th or 17th century, based on a story in the Talmud (Shabbat 119B). In this Talmudic allegory, two angels escort each Jewish person home after Friday evening shul. There is essentially a good angel carrying out righteousness in the sight of the Lord and an evil angel disparaging God’s righteousness. If, upon returning to the Jewish person’s home, the angels do not discover Shabbat peace in the home, Sabbath preparations have not been made, the home is in disarray, or there are unresolved tensions in the home that would disrupt the spirit of Shabbat, the evil angel says, "May it [also] be thus on the next Sabbath!" The good angel responds, "Amen, may it be so." May the following week’s Sabbath be just as beautiful, holy, revered, sanctified, and well planned as this week’s Sabbath was.

However, Shabbat peace and spirit have settled upon the home, with the proper preparations made in advance of sundown and a table beautifully set with an already prepared kosher meal in anticipation of Shabbat, and the Sabbath candles are lit. "So may it be next week," the good angel says. The evil angel will respond to this begrudgingly with "Amen."

Not to be confused with the name of a Yiddish writer whose name is similar, albeit spelled differently, Shalom Aleichem as a song includes four stanzas, with some Sephardic Jews inserting an additional fifth stanza. Families may sing each verse of this almost folk-song-like poem up to three times each; the most well-known melody was composed by Rabbi Israel Goldfarb, a Polish-born cantor, conductor, and musician who immigrated to New York and composed the melody while lounging on a bench on a Friday night at Columbia University in 1918. His musical compositions were later published in at least two places: Friday Evening Melodies and Sabbath in the Home.

Shalom Aleichem is one of the few Jewish liturgical tunes written in America that has become well-known worldwide for ushering in Sabbath peace and has become even more popular than some of the Shalom Aleichem melodies that were already in existence in some of the other parts of the world. "The popularity of the melody traveled not only throughout this country but throughout the world, so that many people came to believe that the song was handed down from Mount Sinai by Moses," Goldfarb later wrote regarding his composition. There have been different variations and remakes of the song since then.

Jewish families may sing Shalom Aleichem to welcome angels of the Lord to come in peace on the Sabbath, ask for peace to be bestowed upon us and our homes and the angels during their stay in our homes, for there to be no conflict between friends or family particularly lingering over Shabbat, and wish the angels peace when they leave the home upon the conclusion of the Sabbath. The song is also considered a request for God’s peace, for we lack nothing; He has provided for all our needs and has granted us the Shabbat, when we can rest from our labors of the week. The song is an opportunity to wish peace to all the angels ministering in our lives, not only the two who may accompany us home from shul but all the angels we may not be aware of.

Often, the song is sung prior to the Friday evening meal. Shalom Aleichem is often considered z’mirot shel shabbat (a Sabbath "table song" or "table hymn") and may be sung both before and/or after the meal. Often, it is the first to be sung in a series of such table hymns.

Some rabbis have disputed whether this has any validity in Jewish religious life, given the references to angels as intermediaries between God and man, a concept that is not presented in the Torah but rather in Jewish mysticism. However, the custom of singing this poem to express the desire for Shabbat peace has prevailed in Jewish communities throughout the world.

The text of Shalom Aleichem reads as follows:

Peace be with you, ministering angels, messengers of the Most High,

Messengers of the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He,

Come in peace, messengers of peace, messengers of the Most High,

Messengers of the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He,

Bless me with peace, messengers of peace, messengers of the Most High,

Messengers of the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He,

Go in peace, messengers of peace, messengers of the Most High.

Messengers of the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He,

Shalom aleichem mal’achei hashareit mal’achei elyon

Mimelech malchei ham’lachim, ha-kadosh baruch hu

Bo’achem l’shalom mal’achei hashalom mal’achei elyon

Mimelech malchei ham’lachim, ha-kadosh baruch hu

Barechuni l’shalom mal’achei hashalom mal’achei elyon

Mimelech malchei ham’lachim ha-kadosh baruch hu

Tzeitchem l’shalom mal’achei hashalom mal’achei elyon

Mimelech malchei ham’lachim ha-kadosh baruch hu

The concept of "shalom aleichem," or "peace be unto you," is carried forth into the New Covenant, in which the bold text could be replaced with "shalom aleichem."

Luke 24:36: "While they were still talking about this, Yeshua Himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’"

John 20:19: "On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Yeshua came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’"

John 20:21: "Again Yeshua said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’"

John 20:26, after Yeshua’s resurrection: "A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Yeshua came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’"

In the examples above, Yeshua was not simply extending a hello or farewell in these circumstances but was offering a message of peace, hope, safety, tranquility, and well-being to those He was speaking to. He was offering peace of mind in His life, death, resurrection, promises, and assurances that He will give us rest, satisfy our souls, provide godly prosperity (perhaps not financial but maybe in the form of relationships, fellowship, health, opportunities, or other blessings), and that He will be with us always, even unto the end of time. Furthermore, it was not uncommon for Paul to begin his letters with some variation of the phrase, "Grace to you and peace (shalom)." 

While the Hebrew word "shalom" may best translate as "peace," shalom describes a much more spiritually profound definition of peace, a type of peace that can only come from God, hence our Savior being referred to as the Prince of Peace, Sar Shalom, in Isaiah 9:6 and references to the Lord of Our Peace (Shalom) in Judges 6:24. Yeshua’s shalom is deeper than peace from the rough waters of life or the absence of chaos on earth; it is shalom that the Kingdom of God may one day reign where godly relationships abound, where sin no longer corrupts us, and where God’s divine peace and mercy may abound for eternity. God’s shalom is available to each of us who believes in Yeshua the Messiah of Isaiah 53 and who earnestly seeks first the Kingdom of God, for as scripture promises, all the rest will be added unto us.

Shalom Aleichem to you all.

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