Dear Tanta Golda,
Recently a friend of mine from Temple signed off her email to me with L’shalom. Another friend uses B’shalom. What's the translation for L'Shalom? Why do we use it?
Raising my Lexicon
My Dear Lex,
This is a hotly discussed topic in some circles. As you may know, Hebrew often attaches small words that we call prepositions or conjunctions as prefixes to words. For example: Ha as a prefix means the, L' means to or towards. B' means in or with. You will have seen/heard them used like this: b’yad: (by the) hand, hagafen: (the) vine, l’chayim: (to) life.
So l'shalom means towards peace; b'shalom in peace. Now you might be saying to yourself, “But they seem so similar, what’s the rub?” An excellent question, and one that leads to many people using them incorrectly.
Apparently, for a variety of reasons, b'shalom is reserved for the dead, as in: May her soul go b'shalom--in peace. There are several passages in Torah where b’shalom is used in referencing the dead, or more specifically when addressing someone you wish were dead. Sort of like, “Go to hell!” It would seem that when Joseph’s brothers sold him off to traders they used the phrase b’shalom: they wished him dead.
L'shalom is used when addressing the living--may you go towards peace. Doesn't that sound nice? The Talmud, in Berachos 64a, explains that a living person must always seek to grow spiritually and keep from stagnating. Therefore, they should go towards peace: keep working at it. A dead person however, remains at whatever spiritual level they attained in their lifetime.
So, when speaking to your friends it is gracious to say l’shalom. If they are your enemies...well it is best just to keep it to yourself!
In re-checking my answer for you I found that a more common sign off is "kol tuv", meaning 'be well'.