Pinchas and the broken vav
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TorahParshat Pinchas

Pinchas and the broken vav

Numbers 25:10 - 30:1

(File photo)
(File photo)

I have heard the following story using the name of many different thinkers, including Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (also known as the Chofetz Chaim):

When he was young and idealistic, he wanted to change the whole world. When he got a little older and wiser, he realized that he could not do that, so he refocused his goal and aimed at changing his country. Later, he again restricted his focus and narrowed it to changing his city. When he could not do that, he tried to change his family. Finally, he decided to improve himself. By doing so, he managed to have an influence on his family, on his community, his city and beyond.

The story rings true for many of us. It reflects our youthful idealism and concludes that one person can indeed change the world by beginning with oneself.

I like reading biographies of historical figures for this reason. From humble origins, many are able to take their G-d-given abilities and, through hard work, achieve great things. It amazes me the difference that one person can make.

Pinchas, in this week’s Torah portion, achieved this distinction by his clear insight and bold action. In the aftermath of the Balak/Bilaam episode, he saw the Jewish nation falling prey to the temptations of the Moabites and acted in accordance with G-d’s will. He was a powerful role model and stood up for what was right.

G-d therefore said: “I give him my covenant of peace (briti shalom).” Numbers 25:12. The Talmud (Kiddushin 66b) notes that the letter vav in the word “shalom” is broken. Normally, if a letter is cracked or broken in the Torah scroll, that scroll cannot be used until it is corrected. But this letter is the exception, and is deliberately written this way.

Although Pinchas was correct in his leadership, and was rewarded by Hashem, nevertheless this broken vav teaches us a valuable lesson: Peace is a fragile thing, and difficult to maintain. Often we must go to great lengths to preserve it, through sacrifice and compromise.

From the fast of 17th of Tammuz until we commemorate the destruction of the Temples on Tisha B’Av, we reflect on how our behavior led to the loss of our holiest place and our Holy Land. This is a time to rededicate ourselves to Hashem and to His Torah. Most importantly, like Pinchas and his grandfather Aaron, we must also always “love peace and pursue peace”.

A person can change him or herself and the course of history — however, not at the expense of the fact that preserving peace is one of our greatest blessings.

Shabbat shalom. PJC

Rabbi Eli Seidman is the former director of pastoral care at the Jewish Association on Aging. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.

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