Rabbi Koppell in Hawaii

Rabbi Bonnie Koppell adventuring in Hawaii.

Shalom aleichem. How would you translate that? Peace be upon you. We know the word shalom as we pray so often for that elusive sense of peace. The meaning of shalom is so deep. Hello and goodbye. What could be more unifying? The word shalom brings together two opposites. Coming and going. Overcoming strife. Wholeness and harmony.

I love the depth and complexity of the word shalom. My husband, Ron, and I recently had the opportunity to travel to Hawaii. One of the many joys of travel is learning about other cultures. And we learned to appreciate the word “aloha.”

The Hawaiian people talk about the “Aloha Spirit,” which is enshrined in the law. Hawaiian Revised Statute 5-7.5 states that the “Aloha Spirit was the working philosophy of native Hawaiians and was presented as a gift to the people of Hawaii.”

It is defined as “the coordination of mind and heart within each person . . . (bringing) each person to the self, (and mandating that) each person must think and emote good feelings to others. Aloha means to hear what is not said, to see what cannot be seen, and to know the unknowable.” It’s the law! It’s a mitzvah!

Aloha is further understood as an acronym:

A: Akahai — Kindness expressed with tenderness. What we might call chesed or gemilut chasadim, loving acts of kindness. Going out of our way to sense what others need and to provide it without even being asked.

L: Lokahi — Unity expressed with harmony. To be a community, we need to work together towards common goals and to retain a sense of unity even when we disagree. The mezuzah we place on our doorframes, hung neither vertically nor horizontally but at an angle, is a constant reminder of the need for compromise as the foundation of harmony. Harmony is what brings us together.

O: Olu’olu — Being pleasant and agreeable. When my friend Emunah, resident of Jerusalem and mother of 14, was asked for advice on success in marriage by her children, her reply was, “Just be nice.” As we read in Psalm 133, “How good it is, and how pleasant, for us to dwell together, Hine Ma Tov u’Ma Naim.” And this, from Pirkei Avot, ‘Receive all people with pleasantness.” (1:14)

H: Ha’aha’a — Humility expressed with modesty. The prophet Micah expressed it well (6:8) when he taught, “What does God want from us?” Ultimately to “walk humbly.” Allowing others appropriate space and resisting the tendency to be arrogant about our skills and accomplishments.

A: Ahonui — Finally, patience with perseverance. In Hebrew, patience is savlanut, which comes from the root saval — to bear a burden. Patience is not easy. It is at the top of my personal spiritual curriculum. As Alan Morinis, founder of The Mussar Institute, so aptly reminds us, “Impatience seldom makes things happen faster or better and usually only causes us grief. It’s like an inner blaze that burns us up without giving off any warmth.”

The world would be a better place if we would all adopt the Aloha Spirit — kindness, harmony, pleasantness, humility and patience.

One other lesson from Hawaii. Our amazing Backroads tour company guides took us to a place where we were able to observe the force of nature as lava erupted from Kilauea. Approaching the active volcano, the red light it emitted was visible from afar. The experience was an intense reminder of how little we can control nature.

The theme of Backroads as a company is “go active” and the lava flow was emblematic of this guide for life. Hawaiians suggest that we learn from the volcano to go with the flow. The Big Island is covered with lava and the lava goes where it will, outside of human authority. The takeaway is to focus on what we can control and let go of the rest.

When we can’t exercise control, we should find healthy ways to let off some steam and have a blast. And, finally, the volcano reminds us to keep our inner fire burning. Which brings us to Shabbat, the time that we stir our own spiritual embers and light our inner fire, sharing it with the community that celebrates together. Mahalo! And, wherever our journeys in life lead, may we be guided by Pirkei Avot, “Who is wise? The person who learns from everyone.” (1:4) JN

Rabbi Bonnie Koppell is the associate rabbi of Temple Chai in Phoenix.