When we say “Shabbat Shalom!” to one another, we may be saying a lot more than what we realize. “Shalom” has become such a frequently used word that, I am afraid, we may have lost its true meaning and the deeper significance that comes along with this word. We have all become accustomed to speaking out and sending out (and receiving!) greetings of “Shabbat Shalom” on Friday evenings. Those of you who have visited Israel will have come across this practice of well-wishing for Shabbat even more lavishly and enthusiastically. But the question is, do we know what this “shalom” is all about and are we aware of exactly what we are saying when we join the texting-happy and ever-increasing “Shabbat Shalom” crowd, out there?
Most of us are aware that “shalom” is related to peace. So, at the very least, when we are saying “Shabbat Shalom”, we are wishing each other a peaceful and restful Shabbat. But this is by far not the complete picture. And to illustrate this, I would like to draw your attention to a text from the book of Isaiah (Yeshayahu), chapter 38, verse 3: “I pray, O Yahweh, please remember how I have walked before You in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done what is good in Your eyes.” This of part of the prayer of Khizqiyahu (Hezekiah) when he found out that he was critically ill. Now Khizkiyahu was one of the most successful and righteous kings of Yehudah. He was no saint, and he made a number of mistakes, especially towards the end of his life, but his legacy is treasured and a number of us had the privilege of walking through the tunnel in Jerusalem, called Hezekiah’s tunnel, that is most probably the very tunnel that Khizkiyahu constructed 700 years before the birth of Y’shua (and described in 2 Chronicles 32). So when Khizkiyahu discovered that he was sick and on the verge of dying, he reminded Yahweh that he had walked before Him in truth and with a perfect heart. And this was not a lie. Up till that point, Khizkiyahu’s life and his style of leadership was a demonstration of the actual meaning of his name, “My strength is in Yahweh”. I have to ask myself the question: When I come towards the end of my life, will I be able to declare before Yahweh that I have walked before Him in truth and with a perfect heart? Surely, this question from the lips of Khizkiyahu is even more important than his legacy as a tunnel-builder, a great strategist and a righteous king.
Let us consider, for a moment, the words, “with a perfect heart”. It is a translation of the two Hebrew words, “belev shalem”. “Be” means “in” or “with”. “Lev” means “heart”. And “shalem” means “perfect”. So, Khizkiyahu walked before Yahweh in (or with) truth and in (or with) a heart that is perfect. Clearly “shalem” is just another form of the word that we know as “shalom”. So, “shalom” is not just about peace. It is also about being perfect. And perfection is what Yahweh had in mind for us in the first place. It is what He had in mind when He introduced the Shabbat. What He would like to see among us, is not just greetings and wishes and Whatsapp messages of “Shabbat Shalom” – not even when these messages are accompanied by verses from Scriptures. No, He is looking for hearts that are perfect. He is looking for a people who are serious about observing the true rest of Shabbat, letting go, for one complete day, of their obsession with their own businesses, activities and programs (notice how all of these words are the opposite of the idea of resting) and embracing the truth that we may relax because Yahweh is in control of our lives. A Shabbat that is perfect (“shalem”) is a day that falls within the Scriptural principle of refraining from work and enjoying Yahweh’s pattern of refreshment and is not burdened with the Pharisaical anxiety that one should, at all costs, abide by a great number of man-made do’s and don’ts that are conducive to more stress, and not to a perfect day of rest.
Speaking of the Pharisees, when Y’shua confronted them, not only about the way they observed the Shabbat but also about their keeping of the Torah in general, He said that what they were lacking, was that they were not perfect (“shalem”), in the same way Yahweh had intended it, from the beginning. I know most of us are allergic to the word “perfect”. Some of us are perfectionists in our professions, in our cooking, in our art and in our skills. But just don’t tell people that they need to be perfect in their obedience to the Word of Yahweh. But in the Hebrew idiom the call to be perfect, is not a call to be superhuman of to live a life without errors and mistakes and weak moments. It is also not a call to strictly and narrow-mindedly adhere to nitty-gritty commandments and outward appearances, in a quest to make a good impression. No, it is a call to hear the heartbeat of Torah. It is a call to focus on the essence and not on the appearance or the ritual or the kind of mechanical observance of Torah, that is without joy or conviction. Directly after Y’shua announced that He did not come to destroy Torah, but to fulfil it and that those who taught others that it is okay to break Torah will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven, He said this: “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall by no means enter into the reign of the heavens” (Mat 5:20). He then proceeds to highlight some of the well-known commandments, like murder and adultery and illustrates that the observance of these commandments goes deeper than what it seems on the surface. It is no good to boast about the fact that you haven’t murdered people, if you are assaulting them or verbally abusing them or oppressing them or manipulating them or slowly but surely killing them with words and attitudes that are more damaging than death-blows. And then He concludes that part of the Sermon on the Mount by saying these words: “Therefore, be perfect, as your Father in the heavens is perfect” (Mat 5:48). Do not keep Torah in a manner that is pleasing to men. Do not follow a pattern of doing good that is no better that the patterns and the customs of this world (“Are the tax collectors not doing so too?” – Mat 5:47).
When Y’shua said that He came to fulfil Torah (in the same chapter where He encouraged his followers to be perfect, as their heavenly Father is perfect), it is clear that what He said about Himself (I came to fulfil), was also something that He wanted for his followers. He wanted them to fulfil the Torah, too. The meaning of the word “fulfil” in the dictionary is, among others, “to be perfect or to make perfect or to perform in a perfect way”. In that sense, what was true of Y’shua (who came to fulfil), is supposed to be true of us, too (we need to perform Torah in a perfect way, not in a way that is only about outward appearances). In the book, From Haziness to Clarity, I have mentioned a few examples from Scriptures where the Biblical meaning of the word “fulfil” may clearly be seen. When the taskmasters of Egypt told the Israelites to “fulfil” their daily tasks, there was only one way to understand this: They had to complete and perform their tasks in a way that was pleasing to their superiors. When David said to his son, Absalom, that he would prosper if he “fulfilled” the commandments of Mosheh, the meaning of the word “fulfil” is nothing less and nothing more than doing and keeping those commandments, in the fullest and most complete sense of the word. Even in the Mishnah, the book of Jewish Oral Traditions and Commentaries, the use of the word “fulfil” is on par with the way it is used in Scriptures. One of the sayings in the Mishnah is, “Whoever fulfils the Torah when poor, will in the end fulfil it in wealth.” Clearly, also in this context, the idea of fulfilling the Torah is all about being serious about the true intention of Torah and keeping Torah honestly and perfectly – irrespective of whether people are looking on, or not, or whether you are rich, or not, or whether you are in a good space or a good mood, or not.
Through the centuries many commentators have interpreted the word “fulfil” in Matthew 5 in a way that is completely unfair to the actual text of Matthew 5. The majority of these commentators are suggesting that Y’shua’s fulfilling of the Torah means that we don’t have to keep Torah any more. They like to say that Y’shua “completed” the Torah – therefore it no longer applies to us. As if the fact that Bruce Fordyce “completed” the Comrades Marathon, means that it is no longer necessary for anyone else to run the Comrades Marathon! Some of the commentators suggest that the word “fulfil” means something like “improve” – implying that the Torah was flawed and inferior and that it was necessary for Y’shua to introduce something that was more perfect. To quote one commentator, “The Jewish moral law was not designed by the Almighty to be the last and most perfect revelation of his will”. With this view he is, in fact, blaming Yahweh of being shortsighted and presenting them with an imperfect revelation of his will – something that is completely ruled out by verses like Ps 18:30 (The way of Elohim is perfect); Ps 19:7 (The Torah of Yahweh is perfect) and Ps 119:96 (I have seen an end to all perfections but your command is exceedingly broad).
The fact that we have come into a habit of saying Shabbat Shalom, at least to one or two people every week, around the time when the seventh day is about to begin, is something quite remarkable. Let us continue to do so. But let us keep in mind that this “shalom” is about keeping Shabbat in a perfect way. Not in a half-hearted way. Not in a superficial way. Not with our hearts and minds still pretty much engaged with the struggles and the concerns of the week that is behind us, or the week that is yet to come. And when we say “Shabbat Shalom”, let us be reminded that it is not only the Shabbat that needs to be kept in a perfect way, the whole of Torah – all the instructions and teachings of the Word of Yahweh, need to be dealt with and observed in a perfect and complete manner. With regards to all of these, we need to be able to say with king Khizkiyahu, “Yahweh, I have walked before You in truth and with a perfect heart!”