Darchei Shalom means the ways or paths of peace, from the words derech, road, and shalom, peace. It is primarily a legal category rooted in Mishnah Gittin 5:8, which lists various halachot whose rationale is given as mipnei darchei shalom, to avoid quarrels and contention.
The Mishnah requires us to allow non-Jewish poor to gather the gleanings of our fields together with Jewish poor, mipnei darchei shalom. The Talmud elaborates: "We feed non-Jewish poor together with Jewish poor, visit their sick together with Jewish sick people... because of the ways of peace". Some medieval Askenazi commentators understood the reason to be equivalent to mishum aivah, meaning "because of animosity". Understood thus, the intention of the Talmud is that if we do not also feed non-Jewish poor, the non-Jews will hate and punish us.
But Rabbi David Zvi Hoffman (1843-1921) argued persuasively that mipnei darchei shalom means to promote peace in the world as a positive ideal. He draws support from Maimonides, who glosses this requirement with the verse, "Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and her paths are paths of peace" (Proverbs 3:17).
This is my last "Jewish Words" column. Next week I begin a series on practice, "Jewish Ways", which hopefully will expand on this vision of the Torah as "ways of peace."