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Torah Sparks

December 27, 2003 - 5764

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman
Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Congregational Services
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Annual Cycle: Genesis 41:1-44:17 - Hertz, p. 155; Etz Hayim, p. 250
Triennial Cycle 3: Genesis 43:16-44:17 - Hertz, p. 163; Etz Hayim, p. 265
Maftir: Numbers 7:54-8:4 - Hertz, p. 599; Etz Hayim, p. 809
Haftarah: I Kings 7:40-50 - Hertz, p. 990; Etz Hayim, p.1273

Discussion Theme: The Spiritual Journey

When Judah and his brothers re-entered the house of Joseph, who was still there, they threw themselves on the ground before him. Joseph said to them, “What is this deed that you have done? Do you not know that a my lord? How can we plead, how can we prove our innocence? God has uncovered the crime of your servants. Here we are, then, slaves of my lord, the rest of us as much as he in whose possession the goblet was found.” But he replied, “Far be it from me to act thus! Only he in whose possession the goblet was found shall be my slave; the rest of you go back in peace to your father.” (Genesis 44:14-17)


  1. And God said to Abram, “Know well that your offspring shall be strangers in a land not theirs, and they shall be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years; but I will execute judgment on the nation they shall serve, and in the end they shall go free with great wealth. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace (b’shalom); you shall be buried at a ripe old age. And they shall return here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” (Genesis 15:13-16)
  2. Joseph really says, “Go back toward peace” (l’shalom) rather than “in peace” (b’shalom). For to say l’shalom always means to go forward to a peaceful life, while b’shalom is associated with eternal peace, i.e. death. (Plaut Commentary to Genesis 44:17)
  3. Rabbi Avin Halevi said: One who departs from a friend should not say go in peace, “b’shalom,” but go to peace, “l’shalom.” For Yitro, who said to Moses, “go to peace” (Ex. 4:18), went up and succeeded. David, who said to Avshalom, “go in peace” (II Samuel 15:9), went and was hanged. And Rabbi Avin Halevi said: One who departs from the dead should not say to him, go to peace, “l’shalom,” but go in peace, “b’shalom,” as it says in Genesis 15:15, “As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace (b’shalom); you shall be buried at a ripe old age.” (Talmud Berachot 64a)
  4. Why is it preferable to bless the living with the word "l'shalom?" A living person must never stay on the same spiritual level. He must always be climbing and accomplishing. A dead person, on the other hand, has already attained whatever spiritual level it is that he will reach. That is why we wish the living to go "towards peace" ("l'shalom"), that is, towards a greater and holier spiritual level, while we wish the not living to "rest in peace" (b’shalom). This is why Jacob did not use the usual phraseology in his prayer. Normally, we wish the other person that he may rise higher and higher upon parting with us. Jacob, by saying "b'shalom," meant to say "I will even be satisfied if I return from the house of Lavan on the same spiritual level that I am at present [without being affected by the wickedness of Lavan]." Megaleh Amukot in (Semichat Chachamim on Berachot 64a)
  5. When one says, "go in peace," it implies that only while traveling should there be peace. It does not relate to what happens upon arrival at the destination. That is why it is not an appropriate blessing to the living; one should also bless the traveler to arrive at his destination in peace, by saying, "go towards peace." B'shalom" is, however, an appropriate blessing to the deceased, since his destination is certainly peaceful and it is the road there, which is fearful. (Rita on Berachot 64a)
  6. The Lord spoke to Abram, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing. (Genesis 12:1-2)
  7. Angels are called standing; human beings are described as walking. (Zohar)
  8. Real Jewish life is a life of passionate struggle and honest searching. The Torah’s clearest indication of this is that the story of the Jewish people both begins and concludes outside the Promised Land. God’s very first words to Abram, the first Jew, are a command to being an odyssey: “Go forth” (Genesis 12:1). Thus the very first words God utters to the very first Jew are lekh-lekha — get up and move. Abram — as he was known before God changed his name to Abraham — begins life outside the Promised Land. Before anything else transpires between him and God, God communicates the most important message of all: Abram’s life as a Jew and therefore ours as well needs to be a gradual journey toward the Promised Land… There are several important messages about our own spiritual journeys in these stories. First, God’s relationship with Abram begins outside the Promised Land; each of us begins our adult spiritual journeyunsatisfied, not where we ultimately wish to be. Second, God instructs Abram to (take a) risk… None of us should expect the search for spiritual fulfillment to be simple or mechanical. We, too, will have to risk. Third, God requires the Jewish people to wander for forty years after they leave Egypt; our spiritual journeys are often not only difficult, but also lengthy. When we seek the spiritual, we dare not expect instant gratification. Fourth… we should not necessarily expect to feel, at any given moment, that we have “arrived.” (Rabbi Daniel Gordis, God Was Not in the Fire)


In the simple greeting, “lech l’shalom,” go towards peace, our tradition, as explained by Megaleh Amukot, expresses a wish — that we continue to seek spiritual fulfillment. Incontrast to “lech b’shalom” which is what one wishes someone who has no potential for growth, i.e. the dead, “lech l’shalom” is a prayer that we continually expand our interests, enlarge our sympathies, widen our intellectual horizons, and deepen our attachment to the holy. How does the word “halakha,” Jewish law, which is derived from the verb “to walk or to go,” reflect this same truth? What does it mean to say that halakha is a journey, not a destination?

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