Miketz December 14, 2017

Perhaps you have noticed the Jewish custom of ending a letter with the word “B’shalom” or L’shalom, “in peace” or “toward peace,” respectively. “B’shalom” seems closer to the English usage, but actually “L’shalom” is more appropriate in Hebrew, and an explanation finds its source in this week’s parasha.  When Joseph sends his brothers back to Canaan while keeping Benjamin as a slave, he bids them farewell with “Alu l’shalom,” usually translated as “Go up in peace.” (Gen 44:17).  But, a better translation is “Go up toward peace.”  The Talmud states that to say “l’shalom” always means to go forward to a peaceful life, while “b’shalom” is associated with eternal peace, that is, death. (Tractate Berachot). That is why letters should be concluded with “L’shalom” rather than “B’shalom,” unless one is expressing condolences.