Q. Why do Ashkenazim say the Sim Shalom paragraph at the end of the Amidah during the morning prayers, but substitute the Shalom Rav paragraph for the afternoon and evening prayers?
A. Most major prayers, the Amidah, Bir’kat HaMazon, Kaddish, etc., conclude with a messianic prayer for peace.
In the Ashkenazi rite there are two versions of the prayer for peace that comes at the end of the Amidah – Sim Shalom and Shalom Rav. As often happened when there were two versions of a prayer (other examples are Magdil and Migdol, and Ahavah Rabbah and Ahavat Olam), the alternatives were assigned to different occasions. Thus from about the 12th century Shalom Rav was assigned to Minchah (but not on fast days) and Ma’ariv, and Sim Shalom to all other occasions.
Sim Shalom follows Birkat Kohanim (Num. 6:22-27) and echoes its language, and was deemed appropriate for occasions when that blessing is said, i.e. Shacharit and Musaf and (on fast days) Minchah. Sim Shalom may be understood as a congregational paraphrase of the priestly blessing. The linguistic links between them include the following:
1. Sim shalom – echoing V’yasem l’cha shalom (Baruch HaLevi Epstein’s “Baruch SheAmar” says that the prayer begins sim because of the difference between sim and ten, but the better view is that the prayer is an echo of the blessing).
2. B’or panecha – echoing Ya’er HaShem panav.
3. Bar’chenu avinu – echoing the Biblical words Ko t’varchu and Va’ani avarchem (Num. 6:23,27).
Sim Shalom does not refer to the kohanim or the Temple and Kaufman Kohler thought that it emanated from circles “who would not recognise the mediatorship of the priesthood” (see AZ Idelsohn, Jewish Liturgy and Its Development, 1932, p 108). Another view is that when the Mishnah (Tamid 5:1) speaks of the Birkat Kohanim in the Temple it means Sim Shalom (see Eliezer Levi, Yesodot HaT’fillah, 1958, p 160).
Sim Shalom refers to the Torah (“…Torat chayyim”), which links it to time when there is a Torah reading. Hence in Eretz Yisrael Sim Shalom is said on Shabbat afternoon. On Shabbat afternoon, Sim Shalom was used in Germany, though Poland used Shalom Rav.
The concluding blessing also has two versions – Hamvarech et ammo Yisrael bashalom and Oseh hashalom, though Oseh hashalom is older. In Eretz Yisrael, Oseh hashalom was said throughout the year in contrast to Babylon, where Hamvarech was said. The Ashkenazim deferred to the Palestinian version by saying Oseh hashalom during the Aseret Y’mei T’shuvah, once again allocating alternative versions to separate occasions.
On occasions when there is no duchaning, the prayer for peace used by Ashkenazim does not need to commence with an echo of the Birkat Kohanim. Hence the alternative text, Shalom Rav, which owes its beginning to Psalm 119:165, Shalom rav l’ohavei toratecha. The Sephardi rite does not use Shalom Rav but always Sim Shalom. In Avignon the custom was to say Shalom Rav on all occasions.
But whatever our differences, the goal of our prayers and the aim of our history is peace.