Give Peace a Chance

 Our Cantor just sang the prayer, “Shalom Rav” set to music by Debbie Friedman, of blessed memory. 

Shalom Rav Al Yisrael Amekha means grant ABUNDANT peace to Israel, Your people. The word “rav” you might remember is related to the word “Rabbi” in English (“rav” in Hebrew) A “rabbi” is someone who makes learning “abundant” in a community. We also have the words “Shalom Rav” in our prophetic reading from Isaiah this week, albeit reversed.

וכל־בניך למודי יהוה ורב שלום בניך׃

“All of your children will be knowledgeable about G-d, and abundant shall be the peace of your children”.

The rabbis of Talmudic times noted that there were three other instances where the Bible uses this phrase, “rav shalom” – not merely “shalom”, peace, but “rav shalom” abundant peace. The first is from Psalm 72:

Oh G-d, grant your wisdom to a king, and Your righteousness to his son/ May he judge your people justly, Your humble folk fairly/ May he judge the poor of the people, save the needy, crush the oppressor……/ May the righteous flourish in his day, and may there be “abundant peace” [rav shalom] in the land.”

Although we no longer have Kings, the poet’s point is still relevant in our day. The writer of this psalm maintains that those who govern around the world can be judged by how successfully they care for their country’s poor. This, in turn, will lead to “rav shalom” abundant peace. Rav Shalom thus comes from wise, compassionate leadership and good government.

The second instance where the Rabbis find the term “rav shalom” is in Psalm 119. In this, by far the longest Psalm in the Bible, the author is focused on the idea that G-d can be found through adhering to Jewish ritual and leading an ethical life. The psalm’s author writes “There is rav shalom– abundant peace – to those who love Your Torah, for them there is no stumbling block”. In our own context, just as the government, in the previous example, must be knowledgeable and competent, so too the citizenry must be well educated and strive to lead moral lives. Then there could be “rav shalom”.

The third instance where the Rabbis find the words “rav shalom” is found in Psalm 37. The Psalmist writes, “….Place your trust in G-d, do not be bothered by a successful people if you know they are schemers/Give up on anger and abandon rage….for it leads to doing evil….soon the wicked will vanish entirely…./ in turn, the humble will inherit the earth, they shall revel in rav shalom – an abundance of peace.”

These days, in the Age of Covid-19, many are feeling an amorphous anger and frustration with “the world” or “the system” or “our leadership”.  The poet cautions us that our justifiable anger about this can lead to committing wicked acts ourselves. Putting our trust in G-d can help to guide our actions in combatting injustice so that we do not begin to resemble those who we are opposing. It is those who are humble, those who cleave to G-d’s moral law when pursuing a righteous cause, who will cause “rav shalom” an abundance of peace, to come into our lives. For G-d does not really “grant peace” at all, as it says in our prayers. Rather, G-d places the desire for peace in our hearts and within our reach.

Shabbat Shalom

Photo courtesy of Alice Donovan Rouse at