This week’s parasha, Pinchas, picks up from last week's, which ends very abruptly and on a particularly gruesome note. It is unusual for Torah readings to end with disturbing content. However, we are pretty much left hanging at the climactic moment when Pinchas takes matters into his own hands, killing a leader from the Tribe of Shimeon and a Midianite princess, who are engaged in a lewd, public act at the entrance of the tent of meeting. This violent act is an attempt to stop the plague God has wrought, because of idol worship and immoral behavior.
Is Pinchas a hero, a zealot, a vigilante, a terrorist? Is his violence and murder of two people justified? True, his intervention brought an end to the plague. As a result, God awards Pinchas a Brit Shalom, a Covenant of Peace, which is where we pick up in Parashat Pinchas this week. Why is Pinchas awarded a covenant of peace, after brutally and publicly killing two people? Troubling, right?
Torah commentators have much to say on this topic. There is an interesting clue in the Torah scroll. In the text, when Pinchas is given the Brit Shalom, the Hebrew letter “vav,” in the word Shalom, is broken–meaning there is a crack in the letter. According to our Sages, this teaches us that peace achieved in destructive ways is broken–it is not true peace. Further, we learn that the blessing of the covenant for Pinchas was in itself incomplete.
We can apply this idea to so much of the discord and disruption in our own lives and the world. How can we bring pure shalom to conflicts? How do we foster peace that is not tainted by aggression, violence, anger? Sometimes this may not be possible. Yet the broken vav is there to remind us that it is upon us to try.
May the peace we give and receive be fortified with loving intent, kind gesture, and an openness to see beyond the binary of good and evil. Ken Yehi Ratzon. May it be so.