Parasha ‘Pinchas’ explores Jewish paths to Torah, peace

Rabbi Ari Kaiman


If peace is the absence of conflict, then there are at least two paths to peace.  In a conflict of winners and losers, violence and dominance is a path to peace. One “side” overcomes the other, and imposes terms. The winner enjoys peace, the loser in a sense, ceases to exist. This is the kind of peace that the namesake of our parasha, Pinchas, brings to the Jewish people.  

The conflict he resolves is the blurring of boundaries between “us” and “them.”  The Israelites were mixing with the Moabite women.  Worse, they bowed to the Gods of the Moabites. Our God became angry, and commanded those attached to the God of Ba’al Peor slayed.  Pinchas sees an Israelite man and a Moabite woman together.  He spears them both, destroying the mixture of “us” and “them.”  For this he is awarded a brit shalom, a covenant of peace.

The word “Shalom” is a close relative of “Shalem” fullness or completeness.  Shalom is the absence of foreign conflict.  Shalom is an absence of “us” and “them.” Pinchas achieves it by destroying the other. Yet, his peace is a broken peace.  The masoritic tradition records the “vav” of “Shalom” to be written as a broken “vav.”  The covenant of peace that Pinchas is awarded is only when complete, not when it is lacking.  

Peace achieved through violence is ultimately broken.  There is another path, a pleasant path of wholeness.  “Torah’s ways are pleasant, all of her paths are peace” (Proverbs 3:17).     

We live in an age where “us” and “them” is blurred.  Many of our Jewish brothers and sisters do not give much significance to “Jewish” or “not Jewish.”  But the mixing itself is not what concerns me.  What concerns me is the possibility that our path of Torah is obscured by the many paths available to us.  

The values of religious school are different than the values of competitive sports, for example. In competitive sports, there is always a winner and a loser.  I’m concerned that the path of Torah is a lower priority than the paths of quick and easy pleasures.     

Pinchas may have resolved this challenge by wiping out the “other,” denying the possibility of mixing.  That option is neither possible nor desirable for me or most Jews I know. The path of peace I desire is the path of a complete grounding in our tradition.  

If life is lived through the eyes of Torah, through the wisdom of our tradition, then the violent legacy of Pinchas, the broken vav, it can be repaired.  Our goal need not be separating from the other to gain clarity.  

Our centuries-old tradition provides enough clarity that our task is not to separate, but rather to teach. May we all find the quiet strength to live Torah from the core of our identities.  

May we see the day where a complete peace envelops the world.  Peace that is not about separation and elimination, but rather seeing the completeness of this incredible universe we are blessed to be a part of.