In English when we tell someone, “goodbye,” it can mean much or almost nothing. If we are referring to something final with our goodbye, we have to use more words to communicate finality, or more words to wish great things for the other’s good as we depart. Or goodbye can be a “see you later,” implying by the words something casual or even shallow.
A word that is used in common, daily language in Hebrew to say, “goodbye,” is shalom. In that one word, whether used casually or with import, a whole world of deep meaning, care, and love is stated. In one word of departure, with no other words added, a blessing is bestowed upon the other.
Shalom is a wish for peace upon another. Not a simple peace, as in, “I hope things work out for you.” It is the wish for a person to drink deeply from the well of God’s living water. It is the blessing that can be symbolized as the process of a tree’s roots drinking deeply from a stream of water that never runs dry. The water feeds the roots, extends into the growth of the tree to make it strong, and in that process, the tree bears much fruit. Shalom is a goodbye that wishes a full life upon someone. A life filled with love, and a desire for that love to become a blessing to others.
In that “goodbye” is also the recognition that when trouble comes, as it does to everyone, no fear or worry will overcome you. Staying with the tree analogy, shalom is a hope for the leaves to remain green in a time of heat, and to continue to bear fruit in a time of drought. In shalom, we wish for the other to have faith, trust, and confidence in the one who bestows water, no matter what the conditions one finds one’s self in.
In the blessing of the goodbye of shalom is the deep recognition that life is often tragic, and yet there is the God who is faithful amidst life’s struggles and tragedies. And in that goodbye is the wish for the other to have a deep sense of peace amidst life’s confusing questions and dark times, and joy amidst life’s wonders and serendipitous blessings.
In that departure word of shalom is the desire for the Creator of the universe to have a home in the heart of one’s self and the other. Whether used casually in the morning rush or in solemn ceremony, shalom is a really good goodbye.