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The pursuit of peace and quiet has been at the forefront of man’s endeavors since time immemorial. The Romans famously achieved this objective in what historians call the pax Romana. “Pax” is the Latin progenitor of the English word “peace” and may also be an ancestor of the Mishnaic Hebrew “piyus” (appeasement).

The Jewish people achieved their pax Judaica under the rule of Shlomo HaMelech, whose very name is a cognate of the Hebrew word for peace, “shalom.”


In the first book of Chronicles (22:9), King David tells Solomon about a prophecy that foretells shalom and sheket under Solomon’s reign. In explaining this verse, Rabbi Avraham Bedersi HaPenini (1230-1300) writes that “sheket” implies something greater than “shalom.” He explains that “shalom” is the opposite of war (peace), and “sheket” is the opposite of movement (stillness).

In other words, “shalom” implies the cessation of hostilities, while “sheket” implies the cessation of any rush or toiling that force people to be constantly moving about. Rabbi Bedersi also writes that the degree of peace/rest implied by “shalvah” is on par with that of “shalom.”

Rabbi Shlomo Aharon Wertheimer (1866-1935) writes that “sheket” denotes a situation in which there is no outward conflict or discord; “shalom” and “shalvah,” on the other hand, denotes total peace and harmony.

Why do Rabbi Bedersi and Rabbi Wertheimer both group “shalom” and “shalvah” together?

The answer may lie in these words’ shared etymological root: the biliteral shinlammed, according to Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim of Breslau (1740-1814). He explains that this root primarily means removed or taken away as in Exodus 3:5: “Remove (shal) your shoes from upon your feet” – said by G-d to Moshe at the Burning Bush.

Among the various derivatives of this root, according to Rabbi Pappenheim, are “sheol” (grave – in death, one is taken away from the realm of the living) and “shallal” (booty – property taken from their rightful owners). Similarly, “shalvah” denotes a state in which all disturbances or troubles have been removed or taken away. Meanwhile, a “moshel” (ruler) and a “memshalah” (government) are tasked with maintaining a state of shalvah.

What’s the connection between “shalom” and the shin-lammed root? Rabbi Pappenheim answer by noting that the similar word “shalem” (complete, finished, or, in a financial context, paid) is a state in which everything that had been removed has been returned so that nothing now is lacking. “Shalom” denotes receiving all types of good that are required for prosperity such that nothing extra is lacking.

Elsewhere, Rabbi Pappenheim explains that “shalom” denotes a lack of friction or dissonance between multiple parties. G-d is called “adon ha’shalom” (master of the peace – Maariv on Shabbat) and “melech she’ha’shalom shelo” (the king to whom peace belongs – Shir HaShirim Rabbah 3:14) because He is not comprised of multiple conflicting parts, but always remains in total unity and agreement with Himself.

Rabbi Pappenheim entertains the possibility that “shalom” and “shalvah” are actually synonymous but ultimately concludes that “shalom” denotes an all-encompassing state of peace that can be manifest in all sorts of harmonious relationships, while “shalvah” denotes a specific peaceful relationship within a greater context of discord.

Similarly, the Malbim explains that “shalvah” denotes inner peace while “shalom” denotes coming to terms with something external to oneself (although, he admits that “shalom” can also refer to inner peace in a borrowed sense).

Interestingly, the word “shalu” can sometimes refer to a state of “shalvah” (see Rashi and Ibn Ezra to Lamentations 1:5), and sometimes to committing a sin by mistake (see II Kings 4:28, II Samuel 6:7, and II Chronicles 29:11). In fact, the Targumim typically translate the Hebrew “shogeg” as “shaluta.” How can these two very different meanings converge in one word?

Rabbi Bedersi explains that the complacency of shalvah easily breeds indolence, which causes one not to be careful or mindful enough to avoid sin. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (to Genesis 8:1 and Leviticus 5:4) similarly explains that the dual meanings of “shalvah”/“shalu” allude to the possible negative aspects of tranquility.

A person can sometimes become content with his current spiritual stature such that he no longer strives for greater and greater perfection; instead, he smugly continues in his tried and tested ways. This leads to a lack of spiritual awareness, which can, in turn, lead one down the slippery slope towards sin.

Going back to the word “sheket” for a moment: This word is often translated as quiet, but Rabbi Pappenheim explains that it refers more to patience and forbearance. When a person is in a state of sheket, no outside stimulus can get him worked up into a frenzy; he remains calm and serene. Ibn Janach and Radak seem to define “sheket” as abeyance and calming down after having been in a more turbulent state.

In a similar sense, the Malbim writes that the word “shaanan” – which typically means quiet and tranquility (e.g., Jeremiah 30:10, Proverbs 1:33) – is related to “shaon” (boisterous din), but means its exact opposite: quiet because the noisy shaon has been eliminated.

Rabbi Pappenheim writes that shaanan derives from the two-letter root shin-aleph (or possibly even the monoliteral root shin), which means something uniform/level in which no differences between its various components are apparent. Words deriving from this root can have negative or positive connotations. Thus, “shoah” denotes complete and utter destruction, while “shaanan” denotes complete and utter tranquility.

Rabbi Bedersi posits that “shaanan” implies an even more complete form of peace/rest than “sheket does. Rabbi Pappenheim seems to echo this sentiment by explaining that shaanan differs from shalom and shalvah in that it really refers to calmness and serenity as opposed to peace. He explains that one can be in a state of complete shalom, but still be busy or harried with having to tend to the products of one’s prosperity. The term shaanan precludes that type of busyness; it denotes a form of peace whereby not only are there no disagreements with others, but one need not even interact with others whatsoever.

Finally, we arrive at the word shalanan, which appears only once in the entire Bible (Job 21:23), making it a hapax legomenon. Ibn Janach writes that shalanan means the exact same thing as shaanan, despite the extra lammed. However, Radak and Rabbi Pappenheim explain that shalanan is a composite word comprised of shalvah and shaanan.

Besides the words shalom, shalvah, sheket, shaanan, and shalanan, there is another word associated with peace that begins with the letter SHIN: Shabbat. Shabbat represents the epitome of rest and quiet in This World, and is a microcosm of the final peace that awaits us in the World to Come. This is why in the afternoon prayers on the Sabbath, we refer to the rest on that holy day as a rest of shalom, shalvah, hashket (sheket), and betach. Although, interestingly, many versions of the Siddur omit the word shalvah from this prayer, the Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah §10:9) actually teaches that by resting on the Sabbath, G-d created shaanan, nachat (a cognate of menucha, rest), shalvah, and hashket (sheket). Rashi in Sefer HaPardes finds an allusion to this in Isa. 32:18, which uses various forms of all those words.

Now, that’s something to look forward to…


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Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein writes The Jewish Press's "Fascinating Explorations in Lashon Hakodesh" column.