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Parshat Tzav Shabbat Hagadol

Korban Shlamim (Peace Offering

The name of the korban olah (burnt offering) hints at one of its most defining characteristics; it is completely burnt on the altar. The korban todah (thanksgiving offering) indicates that it is brought to recognize the gratitude one owes God for every blessing that is bestowed. Similarly the chatat and asham (the sin and guilt offerings) are named after the reason they are brought- to atone for one’s transgressions. 

And so it is curious that the name of the korban shlamim (loosely translated into English as the “peace offering”) does not hint at any specific purpose or function. And so the midrash explains,

“’This is the law of the sacrifice of the shlamim.’ Great is the shlamim, for they bring peace between Israel and their Father in Heaven.” (Tanchuma Tzav, 10).


According to the midrash, the korban is named after its result- the peace that it brings. Though this midrash seems to be the source of its name in English, it is not the only possible explanation of the Hebrew name and it is certainly not the most literal, and so there is still much that must be explained. In what way is the korban shlamim unique? In what way does it bring peace where other offerings do not? 

When Israeli children fight and then want to make up, there is a well-known ritual that is performed. The children lock pinkies and shake them while reciting “Friends, friends we’ll be forever; fighting, fighting, never ever.” (Shulom, Shulom l’olam; b’rogez, b’rogez af pa’am). Lo and behold, within moments the children have returned to their play, seemingly oblivious to whatever it was they fought about in the first place. 

The Tanchuma says that the korban shlamim accomplishes the same thing. According to the midrash the shlamim makes peace between Israel and their Father in Heaven, but it never explains how or why the mechanism works. As both these rituals achieve an instantaneous peace, it seems likely that they share a similar explanation. Children are constantly playing; they live their life as if it is one long game, and so they cannot bear a grudge for long. Similarly, the People of Israel are involved in a continuous game with God; they draw close to each other and they pull away as if they are partners in an ongoing dance. But the rules of the game are known from the start. God has sworn that He will never exchange His people for another. And we are pledged never to change our faith. Within these strict bounds we sin, we are estranged, and we return; God alternately hides His face and reveals it. When all is said and done all that is needed to restore the peace is to utter those few magic words. When the Temple stood all that was needed to make the magic happen was this thing called the korban shlamim. 

The midrash moves on from the subject of the korban shlamim to a more general study that praises the value of peace. The continuation of the midrash sheds light on the essence of this peace and the internal process it sets in motion. 

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel points out that the value of peace should be prioritized over the value of truth; this preference is learned from the Torah. On a number of occasions the Torah points out a speaker that told a lie or made something up for the sake of peace. In general, we call these “white lies.” Like when the brothers asked Yosef to live together in peace they invoked the name of their father, even though Yaakov never made any such request. And when Sarah denied that she laughed God was in on the cover-up. He didn’t reveal the entire reason Sarah laughed to Avraham, but rather changed it for the sake of peace. God omitted that Sarah believed Avraham was too old to have children, and instead He only told him that Sarah laughed because she thought she was too old. 

In these cases the lie is not blatantly false. Yosef’s brothers tried to reinforce their request for peace by placing it in the mouth of a third party with authority. But when they invoke Yaakov their words do contain a kernel of truth, for if their father was around surely he would have wanted there to be peace between the brothers. In the story with Sarah nothing untrue is said, but certain thoughts, feelings and fears are left unrevealed. 

These stories lead us to the conclusion that peace can be obtained by tempering some of the more judgmental and critical sides we have as people. It is possible that just like when children play, the secret ingredient is the desire to find a common denominator and stick with it, instead of choosing to advance our own personal agendas. In this way peace reflects a much deeper, honest and authentic desire than the many thoughts and considerations that fill our heads. We prioritize peace in our early developmental stages, and it remains a value instilled in our hearts. It seems that people prioritize peace because everyone is made in the image of God. Every person is a part of His image. Within our disparate bodies lie souls that are connected, pieces of one puzzle that complete each other. 

Shared responsibility for one another and the partnership that it breeds are values that are unique to Judaism. They are based on the idea that competition and self-fulfillment are of secondary importance to solidarity, camaraderie and support. 

In Shir Hashirim to the People of Israel are referred to as the “Shulamite” four times. The midrash explains that the People of Israel were given this name because the priests bless them with peace (shalom), and because God, whose name is Peace, dwells among them.

“’The Shulamite,’ a nation that the priests give peace to every day as it says (Bamidbar 6) ‘so shall they put My name’ and it says ‘and give you peace.’

‘The Shulamite,’ a nation where the Eternal Peace dwells within, as it says, (Shmot 25) ‘And make for Me a sanctuary and I shall dwell amongst them.’”

(Bereishit Rabba, Toldot, 66)


As we have said, God is the source of peace in this world. It is His Divine Presence that allows us to tap into this peace, His Presence and His blessing. The call to the Shulamite is to return, “Return, return, oh Shulamite!” This may hint at the idea that, at times, the desire for independence, to find oneself and one’s personal truth, may overcome our desire for reconciliation and harmony. 

During the festivals it seems that the potential to upset the peace is greater than usual. There seem to be no end to the disagreements that flare up around the holidays, aggravated by the stresses involved in our attempts to accommodate everyone’s needs throughout all the busy festivities. People’s personal aspirations often cause them to long for certain customs and their traditional expressions, and during the holidays this longing becomes even more pronounced. The desire to grow individually can overcome one’s desire for peace. Because the part of us that longs for peace is buried deep within our souls it is often harder to reach; it can only be found if we dig behind the masks of obstinacy and absolute truth. If only we could remember that the division is just a part of the perpetual game that humanity plays. The rules and bounds of the game are set. The ultimate goal is peace and acceptance. If we can remember all this then we can truly enjoy the holidays, for we have brought our own korban shlamim.


Translated by Gila Weinberg


Mon, August 3 2020 13 Av 5780