Parashat Vayeshev

by Rabbi Heidi Cohen

At the bottom of most emails there is a “signature” consisting of our name, maybe our company and some with a poignant quote from a favorite author or text. Depending on the type of email we send there is the salutation – ‘sincerely,’ ‘see ya soon,’ ‘ttfn (ta ta for now!),’ or any other host of salutations. In many of my letters, you see my salutation of either ‘kol tuv’ (be well), or ‘l’shalom.’ However, I see many use ‘b’shalom’ and I feel a bit uncomfortable. Why? Because there really is quite a big difference between the two salutations. On the surface, they both seem innocent enough – ‘to peace’ and ‘in peace’ respectively.

To understand the differences let’s start with this week’s parasha, vayeshev.  Jacob sends Joseph off to check in on his brothers while watching the flocks. Joseph, donning his brand new beautiful multi-colored coat, a gift from his father, goes out to the fields. But the brothers have had enough with this “favored son” and decide it’s time to be rid of him. There, in the wilderness, a band of merchants just happens to pass by and the brothers sell Joseph to the traders. Returning home with the coat soaked in blood, the brothers tell their father that Joseph was killed by a wild beast, never to return again.

For the brothers, they were saying to Joseph, ‘go in peace’ instead of ‘go to peace’ – a hope that they would never have to see him again. But we know that eventually, they will see him again and be very grateful as he saves their lives.

The salutation the brothers might have given their brother, ‘lech b’shalom’ is almost the equivalent of saying, ‘drop dead.’

In tractate Berakhot 64a, we read where Rabbi Avin ha-Levi says, “When you take leave of a friend do not say, ‘lech b’shalom’ but say ‘lech l’shalom.’ This is what Jethro said to Moses (Exodus 4) and Moses went on to success; David took his leave of Absalom by saying ‘lech b’shalom’ (2 Samuel 15:9), and Absalom went and got himself hanged! Rabbi Avin ha-Levi further says: when you take leave of the deceased (at the graveside) do not say ‘lech l’shalom’ but rather ‘lech b’shalom’ (based on Genesis 15:15) (From Rabbi Simchah Roth as quoted in From Aleph to Ze’ev.)

As we sign off in a letter or an email, the simplest of salutations can mean more than we think. Each of us should go l’shalom, with the blessing that every journey and every experience should be that of peace and success.


Rabbi Heidi Cohen

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