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This Shabbat in Israel and elsewhere in the world, we will read Torah portion “Pinhas”.
In this Torah portion G‑d grants Pinhas, the grandson of Aharon, a covenant of peace and the priesthood for his act of zealotry in killing the Simeonite prince Zimri and the Midianite princess who was his paramour.
(By the way, there is an opinion that the meaning of the name פינחס is “mouth of brass” [brass as in the brazen serpent or the brazen altar, because the other way to spell it is פי-נחש)
Let’s take a look at the verse related to Pinhas being granted with the gift of peace.
פִּינְחָס בֶּן-אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן-אַהֲרֹן הַכֹּהֵן, הֵשִׁיב אֶת-חֲמָתִי מֵעַל בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּקַנְאוֹ אֶת-קִנְאָתִי, בְּתוֹכָם; וְלֹא-כִלִּיתִי אֶת-בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּקִנְאָתִי
לָכֵן, אֱמֹר: הִנְנִי נֹתֵן לוֹ אֶת-בְּרִיתִי, שָׁלוֹם
Pinhas the son of Elazar the son of Aaron the Kohen has turned My anger away from the children of Israel by his vengeance for Me among them, so that I did not destroy the children of Israel in my vengeance. Therefore tell him that I give him My covenant of peace. (Numbers 25:11,12)
The verse continues to explain that Pinhas and his descendants were appointed priests.
In this verse the Torah spells the Hebrew word shalom – שלום with a broken (short) letter vav.
A scroll of Torah was once discovered in which the word שלום in the portion of Pinhas was written with a complete (full) letter vav.
And not how it should be written:
The scroll was brought to a scribe to be fixed.
The scribe refused to fix the Torah, explaining that there is an opinion that holds that the word SHALOM is one of the names of G-d and it is forbidden to erase even a small portion of His holy name.
The Torah scroll was then brought to another scribe where the same scenario occurred – the second scribe also refused to fix the word because of the same reason.
Finally, the problem was presented to Rav Sholmo Zalman Aurbach.
He instructed the scribe to extend downward the letters shin, lamed and mem so that the vav in contrast would appear shorter.
At the bottom of the vav at the margin of the other extended letters a small dot should be added.
Such a procedure would give the vav its proper appearance.
Rav Aurbach’s brilliant solution was to fix the word by adding ink without erasing any part of the letter VAV .
But, what is the significance of the way the Hebrew word שלום is written
in this Torah portion?
Rav Zevin explains that a broken letter ‘vav‘ intimates that the word in which it appears can be read as if it is absent.
The letters shin, lamed, mem with a vav, spell shalom.
The three letters without a vav spell shalem.
Both words, loosely translated from Hebrew as “peace” and / or “complete/whole” connote completeness, but there is a difference.
The word shalom with the letter VAV describes the joining of two different people or objects.
This is symbolic of the letter vav (VAV in Hebrew means ‘hook‘) which is commonly used in grammar to join disparate items.
Even when joined each person or object retains its unique identity. They join together only to achieve a certain purpose.
On the other hand, shalem without the vav connotes a greater degree of completeness.
Here the two individual items completely unite with each one giving up their own identity, like in a chemical reaction, to fuse and merge into one new complete entity.
The priests – Kohanin serve two functions.
First, they follow in the way of the first kohen Aaron, who loved peace and brought peace between one man and another. They serve in the capacity of shalom with a vav.
When people join together they each retain their unique identity.
Second, the kohanim serve as teachers of the Torah. Here they bring harmony and completeness to the world through the Torah. In this capacity they serve as shalem without a vav.
Pinhas was rewarded with the blessing of shalom with the broken vav, alluding to the shalom with and without the vav.
Pinhas and his descendants were commanded to serve in the capacity of the priesthood that fulfilled both functions that are required of kohanim.
Many times one finds himself in a situation where the peace he has with others is less than ideal.
He actually is then at a level of shalom (with a vav) while he would prefer the state of shalem (without a vav).
We are frequently convinced that the only way we can move up to next level is if the other party would desist from behavior or conduct that we find offensive.
Many firmly believe that the only way to go from shalom to shalem is only through erasure.
But, learning from the above story, the way to go from shalom to shalem is: expanding and growing instead of erasing and shrinking.
Note: there are 660 instances in the bible, where Jerusalem – ירושלים is spelled in Hebrew as ירושלם.
(The letter Yud is omitted).
Wishing you both – Shalom & Shalem and hopefully see you soon in Yerushalem.
Shabbat Shalom and Shalem,
Wishing you a wonderful Shabbat,
and speaking a lot of Hebrew!
Yoel & Orly