The fruit of that righteousness will be peace;
    its effect will be quietness and confidence forever
. — Isaiah 32:17

Shalom, peace, is a word so interconnected with the Jewish faith that it has become almost a symbol of Judaism. But what is the true meaning of peace, shalom? This is one of six devotions exploring the deeper meaning of what it means to bring peace into your home, your relationships, and yes, the world.

The Rabbi of Kelm (19th-century Russia) was known to say: “A person who has mastered peace of mind has gained everything.”

In Genesis 37, we learn that Jacob had left the house of Laban and returned to the land of Canaan. According to Jewish tradition, Jacob’s one request when he returned to the Holy Land was to live with peace of mind. The chapter begins by telling us that Jacob settled in the land of his fathers. The rabbis teach that when Jacob physically settled in Canaan, he also asked God for the ability to be “settled” in a more spiritual manner after the decades of turbulence that he had endured until this moment. Jacob wanted to live in shalom, in peace and quiet.

Ironically, what follows is one of the most unsettling episodes in Jacob's life. We read about the division between Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph, and his brothers, which culminated in Joseph being sold to nomads heading to Egypt and Jacob being told that his beloved son was dead. What could be more unsettling than that!

The Jewish sages explain that when Jacob asked God for tranquility, that’s exactly when the rift between Joseph and his brothers began. Because Jacob wanted tranquility, God sent him rivalry and division? How does this make any sense?

When God caused more tumult in Jacob’s life, it wasn’t because He denied Jacob’s request; in fact, He was granting it. It was only through the experience of extreme turbulence that Jacob would be able to learn how to experience constant tranquility.

If you have ever watched an experienced surfer ride the waves of a roaring ocean, you’ll understand how this concept works. In the case of the surfer, it doesn’t matter how turbulent the waters are. The waves rise and fall, they splash and crash. But the surfer remains still and calm, unmoved from his place. He rides atop the crest of the waves with utter tranquility.

Certainly, God could have granted Jacob’s request for peace with the absence of any turmoil. But that would be a conditional peace – one that could be broken at any moment. God wanted to give His beloved servant an even greater tranquility — one that was deeper and more stable, one that Jacob could ride through the turbulence of life.

God wanted Jacob to learn that tranquility comes from within, not from the conditions without. Once Jacob could go through the worst life had to offer, he could learn to get through anything. Jacob earned a peace that would last for the rest of his life.

Maybe you know some people who seemingly have it easy in life, yet they are in constant tumult on the inside. Other people have their share of problems, and yet they are completely calm. The secret is in how connected we are to the ultimate source of peace — God.

Judaism has a longstanding tradition of connecting to God in peace and tranquility through quiet meditation and reflection. It should be the goal of every believer to maintain a place of faith and calm even in the most unsettling of situations, keeping our eyes fixed firmly on God.

Explore the blessing of peace in our lives with this free issue of our Bible study series, Limmud (“study” in Hebrew), “The Meaning of Shalom.”

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