Shalom, Shalom (Isaiah 57:19)

Music, English lyrics and recording © Alexander Massey 2020 – All Rights Reserved

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“Peace, peace, when you are far,
However close you are.”
So speaks Havayah.

“Who is Havayah?” you might ask. This is a word that, in more recent times, some people have chosen to say when they have in mind the unpronounceable four-letter Hebrew name of God: yud-heh-vav-heh, or YHVH (the Tetragrammaton). The four letters connect us to the verb ‘to be’. YHVH is often read as Adonai; this word is usually translated as ‘Lord’, and has strong male and patriarchal associations. To be inclusive of all genders, I am delighted that we have an invented word that includes all, and excludes none. Just as the original YHVH is unpronounceable, Havayah is untranslatable: Being? Is-ing? God-ing? Sitting with the question can be refreshing as well as challenging or mysterious.

The Isaiah verse itself has prompted much commentary over the centuries, beginning with the ancient rabbinical teachings. Leviticus Rabbah 16:19 teaches that a person can stay close to God through prayer. In Berachot 34b and Sanhedrin 99a, the Rabbis taught that the healing of shalom comes to those who were far from God and then come near, to those who were near to sinning/ transgressing and then go far away from it, to those who are always far from sin, and to those who are always close to God. The Rabbis suggest that the healing and redemption is more impressive and has greater merit when a person has been far off from God or Torah and then made t’shuvah (return) and come close again. It is never too late to return to God – this is good to know, whether at High Holy Days, or any time when we feel we have been distant. May those who are, or feel, far from God, be blessed with shalom also.

All this is a lot to think about! I suggest letting these ideas sit lightly in the mind, without heavy analysis. Listen to the chant many times, learn to chant it – and let the chant have its own effect on mind, body and heart.