Watch: Two Jews meet. One extends his hand with a greeting of “Shalom Aleichem.” The second responds with the exact words, simply in reverse, “Aleichem Shalom.” Can two Jews ever agree?
Can two Jews ever agree? When one says “Shalom Aleichem,” the other cannot simply respond in kind. He is compelled to reverse the greeting and answers, “Aleichem Shalom.”
Is there a significance to this reversed exchange? What is the salutation of “Shalom Aleichem” all about?
We humans were given the task to further develop the world, improve, innovate, and transform our surroundings. Physical matter is elevated spiritually when we use it for a mitzvah.
This mission is so ingrained in our nature, that when a Jew is greeted with “Shalom Aleichem,” he instinctively wants to make a transformation and he responds, “Aleichem Shalom.”
The phrase “Shalom Aleichem” is actually a paradox. “Shalom” translates as peace and unity. “Aleichem” is the plural form of you, suggesting diversity and separation.
The greeting begins with “Shalom,” referencing the unity sourced in G-d’s Oneness. We are charged with the task to bring unity into creation. The second Jew replies “Aleichem Shalom,” showing how unity can also stem from within our differences. The greetings of “Shalom Aleichem” and “Aleichem Shalom” fuse two opposites in harmony.
When two Jews cross paths, both the first and last word of their greetings is “Shalom.” We proclaim that our encounter will create unity in a diversified world.
The classic “Shalom Aleichem” reflects the mission of our forefather Avraham. Avraham worked to influence society to recognize the oneness of G-d. We continue in his path, reaching out to all, uniting our diverse people with a sense of G-dliness.
In Parshas Vayeitzei, we read the narrative of our forefather Yaakov. Yaakov travelled from his father’s home in Be’er Sheva, to Charan. In Be’er Sheva, the unity of G-d was apparent. Charan, in contrast, was a paganistic land. Yaakov set out to the land of diversity, for it was there that he could fulfill his mission in the manner of “Aleichem Shalom.”
The greeting of “Shalom Aleichem ” reminds us to promote unity amongst our fellow Jews. We must promote the Oneness of G-d in the diverse elements of the world at large. With unity, we eliminate the hatred and discord which caused the exile, and we will merit the redemption with the coming of Moshiach.
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