Commentary for Pinchas

28 Jun

One thing we learn quickly in today’s society is that every rule has exceptions. As we get older, we realize that the exceptions are often much more interesting than the rules themselves, and have a lot to teach us. This week’s parshah begins in the middle of the story of Pinchas, which started at the very end of last week’s parshah. Many Israelites had started worshipping a foreign god called Baal-peor, and an Israelite leader, Zimri, and a Midianite woman, Cozbi, were so brazen that they went in front of the assembled Israelite nation, walked into the Tent of Meeting and went to worship Baal-peor. Pinchas, in an act of zeal, grabbed a spear and stabbed the two of them through the chest. This act scared the remaining Israelites enough that it caused them to turn back to God when even a God-sent plague could not make them forsake their foreign worship.
This week’s parshah immediately picks up where last week’s left off, with “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Pinchas, son of Eleazar son of Aaron the priest has turned back My wrath from the Israelites by displaying among them My zeal in his own his zeal; thus I did not wipe out the Israelites in My zeal. Therefore say “I am giving him My covenant of shalom (Num. 25: 10-12).”
Under normal circumstances, if any letter in a Torah is found to be even partially scratched off or improperly formed, the entire Torah scroll is rendered unusable until the letter is fixed. The one exception to this rule is the letter vav in the word “shalom” in verse 12. If the stem of this letter does not have a small line scratched off it at least part of the way through, the scroll is rendered unusable. In this, there is yet another exception to a rule: Torahs must be written with a quill of feather from a kosher bird. No metal instruments may be used at all… except for here, where the scratching off of the letter must be done with a metal implement. This prohibition against using metal implements reflects instructions given to the Israelites in Exodus 20:22, prohibiting the use of iron tools in the construction of altars, derived from the fact that the word used for iron tools is “cherbecha,” which can also be translated as “swords.” Iron is used for making blades for killing (such as the spear that Pinchas killed Zimri and Cozbi with), and as a result, it is not fit to be used to construct an altar to God or to write a holy object like a Torah.
If we ignore the broken vav from “shalom,” we get the word “shalem” meaning complete, which is the lingual route of the word “shalom.” We learn from this that although much good came from Pinchas’ act of violence and God gave him a covenant of peace, a true, lasting, complete peace cannot be brought about through acts of violence.

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