My friend once claimed to summarise the opening two sedras of Vayikra with the line ‘give it to the Cohen and he’ll offer it up.’ Now whilst it is true, we do not naturally thrill to the topic of sacrifices (korbanos), there are nonetheless timeless messages to glean from them which are relevant to our non-korbanos period in history. Anyway, one of the types of sacrifice mentioned in our sedra is the korban shlamim. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that it does not come to atone for any given sin and is purely voluntary, acknowledging HaShem for His kindness to us (mefurash Artscroll footnote 3;1). According to the Ramban, shlamim comes from the word shaleim (complete), whilst according to Rashi, the word is from shalom (lit. peace), for the korban shlamim puts shalom into the world.In what way does it put shalom into the world, and why is it specifically the korban shlamim that does this? In traditional form, let’s explore a related issue before returning to our questions. Lets look into the concept and nature of shalom.
The first thing to note is that shalom does not mean a mere absence of war (hippy-style), as several sources point out. For example, the gemarra brachos (64a) notes (and we say it during Friday night and at the end of Shabbes mussaf davening) that ‘Torah scholars increase shalom in the world.’ Now, in terms of picking an example of people who sit passively and do not argue, Torah scholars is not the best choice, for much of the day of a Torah scholar is spent arguing in learning Torah with the aim of working out the meaning of different sources. Moreover, the Rambam states (hil. Chanuka 4;14) ‘shalom is [so] great, that the entire Torah was given to make shalom in the world…’ But if shalom means passivity / placidity, how does one reconcile this with the fact that there is a mitzvah to kill off the nation of Amalek [in its proper time]?
Rather, lets realign our perception of the concept of shalom. As the Maharal (nesivos olam; netiv hashalom perek alef) notes, shalom comes from the word shaleim (complete). Firstly, this means that there is no real major dispute between the Ramban and Rashi above as to the origins of the word shlamim, for shalom itself comes from the word shaleim. And secondly, it allows our initial definition of shalom to be the recognition and achievement of one’s personal and national potential. In short, the reaching of shleimus (‘completeness’). This is why talmidei chachamim increase shalom in the world, for their learning of Torah brings the world closer to its potential in bringing HaShem’s Presence into the world via the study of His Torah. And this too is why the killing of Amalek in no way contradicts the concept of shalom, for killing them off [again, in its time] means removing the embodiment of doubt and their ‘blocking’ HaShem’s Presence in the world (Rashi Shemos 17;16).
But there’s a bit more to the concept of shalom. The midrash notes that shalom is often the final thing mentioned. For example, the last bracha of the shmone esrei regards shalom, as does the final pasuk of the birkas kohannim and last line of birkas hamazon, as well as the final bracha in Friday night maariv, amongst others. [The midrash also notes that the korban shlamim is normally mentioned last in the korbanos.] Why is this? The Maharal explains that this is because shalom means the combining of different parts which would not ordinarily fit together. And so shalom naturally comes last, for this is demonstrative of its role in general; that after all the parts are present shalom unifies them. Thus, our understanding of shalom meaning ‘peace’ is one part of the wider definition/concept of shalom, in that two people do unify. In fact, the Maharal uses this definition of ‘the connecting of the parts’ to explain why HaShem’s name is also Shalom (gemarra shabbes 10b – and thus one does not say the word shalom in the toilet or shower) – for HaShem connects the disparate parts of the world to work together. As a small example, He made us and plants (two completely different biological organisms) work in tandem in that plants need the carbon dioxide that we breathe out, and we need plants’ oxygen.
This new definition of shalom ‘connecting the parts’ does not contradict the definition that we gave earlier regarding the reaching of potential. This is because HaShem created each person with their unique role, talents, and task in the world, with nothing and nobody overlapping. Machlokes (dispute; opposite of shalom) comes about when one falls from fulfilling their role and task (Maharal nesivos olam; netiv hatorah perek gimmel). And consequently, fulfilling one’s potential is a prerequisite of and indeed part of shalom; the ability to join up parts without ‘warring’ factions and disputes, for not fulfilling one‘s potential causes machlokes; the opposite of shalom.
This entire idea is shown beautifully via a midrash on the sedra of Vayakhel. When the pasuk recounts that Bnei Yisrael brought their donations to Moshe for the mishkan, the midrash points out that ‘shalom is so great,’ and proceeds to mention that the fact that the kohen receives the first aliyah in shul at leining is for the sake of peace – so people will not argue who gets the first aliyah, for everyone will know it’s the kohen who gets it. But what in the pasuk made the midrash comment about the greatness of the quality of shalom; where do we see particular stress on shalom here? One answer given is that Moshe was faced with a tough choice regarding the collecting of the donations for the mishkan. He could have personally collected the donations from each family, thus expending more effort in the mitzvah. But Moshe instead he called Bnei Yisrael to come to him. Why? Because if Moshe would have gone round himself, there would be a problem; who would he go to first?! Whichever family he visited first would be extremely honoured, but the other families would feel offended that they were not visited first. So, in order to avoid the problem and create peace, Moshe ordered that everyone was to come to him with their donations; hence the medrash pointing out here that, indeed, peace is a great thing.
But according to the definition of shalom which we presented above this midrash fits in rather nicely. It is because when we as individuals were happy to donate our possessions to the mishkan, and we also combined as a nation in joining up to build the mishkan [in fact the two mishkan ‘contractors’ were Betzalel and Ohaliav; from the tribes of Yehudah and Dan – the tribes that travelled first last in the desert, symbolising the total participation of the entire Jewish people], we reached up towards our personal and national potentials in bringing HaShem’s Presence into the world. And since shalom means the unification and reaching of potential, this pasuk is fitting for the midrash to discuss shalom.
Lastly, perhaps we can use this to explain our original questions; in what way does the korban shlamim put shalom into the world and why is it a job unique to the shlamim? As we said above, the shlamim (unlike the olah, chatas, and asham sacrifices) does not come to atone for any sins; rather it is a voluntary korban to show thanks to HaShem. In other words, if one can imagine a scale where zero means one is average, -1 means sins and 1 means in credit, the shlamim does not merely ‘wipe the slate clean of sin,’ brining someone ostensibly back to level zero, but rather brings one to level 1. This is perhaps an aspect of the shalom created by the korban shlamim – that puts one on the road to reaching their potential, their shleimus, and this is also why it is specific to the korban shlamim.
Have a great Shabbes,