Hashem confers his blessings on us the people, using Cohanim as a vehicle to direct His positive energy. The Cohanim, by articulating a fifteen world formula trigger these blessings for the nation. This famous benediction concludes with the ultimate good fortune; Shalom.
The value of this characteristic cannot be overrated, all of humanity without exception; whatever their race, nationality, gender or color can identify with it’s beauty and the calmness it engenders. Growth, development and ultimately, success, mature in a peaceful environment. The Oral Law as redacted by Rebbi emphatically concludes with the following statement:
Reb Shimon Ben Chalafta said, Hashem found no vessel that could contain blessing except that of Shalom (Uktzin 3:12)
If this attribute is so primal that it is the only receptacle capable of holding blessing wouldn’t you expect it to be the first and foremost of the Priestly blessing? After all if it is analogous to a “container”, when one wants to store items in a container first one begins with the holding compartment and then adds the different components. Likewise one would imagine Hashem to bless us with peace, laying the foundation for all subsequent goodness.
Shalom does not only mean peace, this is but a mere superficial understanding of the word. A more accurate definition, which is closer to conveying the essence of this concept would be “Harmony”. What is harmony and how does is differ from peace?
Harmony is when opposing elements accommodate each other. This is very different from peace. Peace is when there is no strife, no arguments and no fighting: I will go about my business and you will go about yours. One party does not encroach on the territory of another. This peace is but a precursor to harmony. Harmony is when conflicting elements acknowledge and create space for each other. Not only do the competing forces not impede one another they actually encourage the growth and development of their counterparts.
Once this first level of co-operation has been established we have a basis for an even greater good. Disparate factors can actually aid and assist each other to combine for a different result. Diametrically opposed elements can actually team up together.
If one sees a kettle in a dream he should expect Shalom (Berachos 56b)
Fire and the water are bitter enemies each attempts to quench and devour the other, yet via the medium of a kettle they can work together to achieve a new product which is inconceivable without their collaborative efforts.
Conflicting powers can be found in a multitude of arenas: within a person, within a relationship or within a community. Every person and every attribute has something positive and unique to add to the pot. It is only with harmony that these different qualities can gain a true, wholesome and everlasting expression.
This then is what Reb Shimon Ben Chalafta was telling us. Hashem showered us with many kindnesses, but because they are numerous it is likely that they will counter and repel one another; without harmony these beautiful blessings could eventually self destruct. For example Birkas Cohanim includes wishes for wealth and development in Torah study, often these two pursuits clash, harming one another without attaining success in both areas. Therefore in order to promote the continued success of the promises in Birkas Cohanim, Hashem instructed the Priests to conclude with the vessel that will help contain and maintain them – Shalom.