(a broken peace; The Torah’s letter broken into pieces.)
This week’s Torah portion, Pinchas, is an amazing example of the Torah commenting upon itself; actually giving a self-critique. This gives me tremendous pride for what the Torah and Judaism has come to be.
Some of you may have heard that to be a kosher Torah scroll all the letters must be perfect. You cannot have even one broken letter. This is true everywhere in the Torah, except right here in our portion, Pinchas. In fact, a Torah scroll can only be kosher if one of the words in this portion is written with a broken letter. The word is “Shalom” (Peace) (Numbers 24:12), which the Talmud says must be written with a broken letter Vav. If the vav is not broken, then the scroll is not fit for Jews to read and learn from. Why? Because this broken letter vav teaches us that a peace (a shalom) that is attained through violence will always be a broken peace, a flawed peace, one that cannot last. Pinchas’ Covenant of Peace is not accepted by the tradition. Pinchas and his priesthood does not last.
The Talmud teaches – all that is written in the Torah is for the sake of peace. This is the highest ideal of Judaism. The word shalom comes from the Hebrew root shalem meaning – wholeness. And so it is appropriate that each of us, myself included, ask ourselves what can I do to bring wholeness, shalom, understanding to our corner of the world? Not a hot-headed illusion that the ends can ever justify the means.
Peace, Shalom is about healing the divisions in society and understanding that we all have a shared destiny. The way to improve our lives is never through hatred of certain groups, like the mentality of Pinchas which is deeply flawed. True peace is achieved through openness, inclusion, and a sense of connection with all humanity. This is message of the broken letter of Torah that points us to the path of wholeness.
Wishing you a Shabbat of Peace.
Rabbi David Wilfond