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In Pursuit of Peace

07/06/2018 02:31:20 PM


Rabbi Steven Suson

A kosher Torah must be written and maintained with great care. If even one letter is missing or so much as blemished to the point that the meaning of the word has changed, the Torah scroll is not considered kosher for use in a religious service. Yet, in a tiny number of instances, oral tradition conveys small but significant deviations in the writing of a Torah scroll. We find one example of this phenomenon at the beginning of this week’s parashah. 

After his violent act of zealotry, Pinchas is lauded for turning away divine wrath and halting the plague that endangered the Jewish nation. For this he is given the reward of brit shalom—a divine “covenant of peace.” (verse 12) 

When one looks carefully at the word shalom in this verse, we find that the vav in the word shalom is severed in the middle. Tradition requires the scribe to write this word differently; the “peace” is cut off in some way. 

Rabbi Berel Wein explains that the blemished vav conveys the fragility of peace, and the need to make sacrifices to achieve true peace. He writes:

The idea that I wish to advance regarding the split vav is very simple, but I feel it to be the essence of truth. Namely, that peace is very fragile, almost always difficult to maintain, and it requires great effort to keep it together. All of human history bears out this fact. True peace, whether in the home, the family, amongst neighbors, in the synagogue, in the community and certainly among nations, is very hard to achieve and even more difficult to maintain. The Torah wishes us to be aware of the difficulty in achieving and maintaining peace. Peace is not achieved with glib phrases, populist slogans or even with good wishes and sincere intents. It requires great sacrifices, sensitivity to others, patience and vision for the future and the possible consequences of current behavior, speech and decisions.

The severed vav in Parashat Pinchas reminds us just how fragile shalom can be, and how hard it is to achieve and maintain, especially in an atmosphere of political strife, heightened emotions, and rampant distrust.

May we find a way to overcome our fears, celebrate our shared values, and discuss our differences with respect. If we can simultaneously demonstrate conviction along with compassion, ethic along with empathy, then our Shalom (peace) will truly be Shalem(whole).

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Suson

Mon, May 27 2019 22 Iyyar 5779