Shalom, Shalom!September 28, 2012 - 5:00 am
“I have seen their ways, but I will heal them;
I will guide them and restore comfort to Israel’s mourners,
creating praise on their lips.
Peace, peace, to those far and near,”
says the LORD. “And I will heal them.” — Isaiah 57:18–19
Yom Kippur is considered the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. For many Jews, it is the only day of holiness on their yearly agenda. They may not make it to daily or even weekly services during the year, but on the Day of Atonement, just about everyone is in attendance. It’s the one time a year when even the most distant soul checks in with God. And God offers him a special greeting.
One of the readings during Yom Kippur comes from the book of Isaiah, chapter 57. In verse 19, God says “Peace, Peace, to those far and near.” In Hebrew, the word “peace” is “shalom.” To this very day, shalom is the word that is used to greet someone. So, another way of understanding the verse is that God is greeting everyone with an enthusiastic “shalom!”
If two of your friends showed up at your door – one who you are very close with, and one that you don’t have much to do with – who would you be happier to see? Obviously your closer friend! But when two people show up to synagogue on Yom Kippur – one who attends regularly, and one who only comes yearly – God is more excited to see the person that has had less contact with Him. In our verse, God mentions those “far” before he mentions those who are “near.” Those most distant from God are greeted first. Why?
Imagine this scenario: Again, two people show up at your door, except that this time, they are your children. One child lives overseas and only comes home to visit once a year. The other child still lives at home and you enjoy a wonderful relationship with her every single day. Who are you going to hug first? Of course the child that you haven’t seen for an entire year! This doesn’t belittle your relationship with the child still living at home. Even she understands your excitement to see her brother that lives far away.
When we read the prophet’s words on Yom Kippur, they deliver an encouraging and relevant message to those in attendance. No matter how distant a person may feel, or how far they may have strayed from the path of righteousness, God is still overjoyed to see him. Everyone can stand comfortably before the Lord knowing that their presence is most welcome.
God never writes anyone off and it’s never too late to return to the Lord. On the contrary. Our heavenly Father anticipates our arrival with joy in His heart and a warm greeting on His lips. “Shalom, shalom!”