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Torah Tuesdays with Hennie Black- Parshat Pinchas



pinchas, the zealot, is rewarded for his brazen act of killing cozbi and zimri while they were engaged in debauchery. indeed, He is rewarded with the priesthood and a “covenant of peace.” 

it is strange that it was an act of violence that resulted in a blessing of peace. it is equally strange that it was through an act of violence that peace was restored to the jewish people. 

what is the connection between violence and peace?

In this week’s Torah portion, G-d rewards Pinchas for his bravery and zealotry for his brazen act of killing Zimri, a Jewish leader, and Cozbi, a Midianite woman, for their public and shameless display of debauchery intended to profane the name of G-d.

At the end of last week’s parsha, we learn that the Jewish people were enticed by the Midianite women to engage in idol worship and licentiousness. As a result, a plague erupted killing 24,000 people. Pinchas decided he must step up and do something about the downfall of the nation. In a moment of zeal, he picked up a spear and pierced both Cozbi and Zimri’s in their stomachs while they were engaged in their act of inappropriate relations. After their deaths, the plague immediately stopped.

Moshe and the people do not immediately react, as they are unsure about Pinchas’s actions. Was he right or wrong in what he did? Was he a hero or a murderer? On the one hand, Pinchas saved countless lives, in that the deaths from the plague ended after his action. On the other hand, did Pinchas have the right to kill someone? Did he know in advance what the outcome would be?  

The Torah informs us that Pinchas reacted appropriately as is evidenced by G-d’s rewarding him with priesthood and the Covenant of Peace. Peace in Hebrew is shalom. If you look inside the Torah, you will see that the word “shalom” (שׁלום) has a broken letter “vav”  as part of the word. Under normal circumstances, any letter that is broken or incomplete would invalidate the entire Torah scroll, and yet the law requires every valid Torah scroll to have a break in the letter “vav” in the word “shalom.“ 

There are many interpretations as to the meaning behind the brokenness of the letter vav. Perhaps it is because peace that comes through violence is not a complete peace; it is a “broken” peace. Or perhaps there is a deeper meaning at play. The word “Shalom” (שׁלום) is similar to another Hebrew word, “Shalem” (שׁלם). This word does not contain the letter “vav” at all. Shalem means complete, perfect or whole. Since the two words “shalom” and “shalem” share the same root letters, there must be a relationship in their meaning. It is not difficult to link these two concepts: the state of being in peace requires being whole. Any peace which lacks a state of wholeness and completeness is not really peace.

How is achieving a sense of peace, wholeness, and completeness related to the broken “vav”? As the Kotzker Rebbe so beautifully stated, “There is nothing more complete than a broken heart.” Sometimes to make something complete, you need to break it. There are times in our lives when in order to be complete we must be broken.

As Jews, we are asked to feel both complete and broken at the same time: that is, we are asked to feel complete in our gratitude for all the blessings we receive, while broken for all the pain and suffering in the world. Gratitude and compassion living side by side. Peace and brokenness co-existing.

We are now in the period known as “the three weeks” which began this past Sunday, June 27, 2021, or the 17th of Tamuz in the Hebrew calendar. This three-week period ends on July 18, 2021, or the 9th of Av in the Hebrew calendar. These three weeks have been a painful time throughout our history, with much suffering happening to the Jewish people. There have been many attempts at our destruction during this time. It is a time during when the Jewish people feel broken. 

While being broken is difficult and painful, it also allows us to reflect on how to become more complete. In light of the Kotzker’s rebbe’s teaching, it is often during our darkest hour that we are able to appreciate the blessings in life.

We must remember that peace is the ultimate blessing of the Jewish people. That is what we must strive for—in the light and the dark. In the good and the bad. In peace and in brokenness.

Wishing you all a Shabbat shalom filled with light and peace.

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