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Home » Pinchas

Pinchas: A Broken Whole

Submitted by on July 24, 2016 – 10:58 pmNo Comment | 2,551 views

The Holy Donut

The old saying goes, there is nothing more complete than a broken heart. Sometimes to make something complete, you need to break it. You can’t make a donut unless you punch a hole in it. With a hole, it is whole. Refill the hole and you lost the donut.

At Peace or Complete?
Our Parsha begins with G-d making an offer to Pinchas, whose actions restored peace. Zimri, a Jewish prince, challenged Moses in public with a Moabite princess. Pinchas, who recognized the danger of the moment, drew his sword and slay them both. This act of violence, diffused a potential rebellion and peace was restored. In reward, G-d offered Pinchas a covenant of peace.[1]

Shalom, the Hebrew word for peace, is perhaps the most famous in all of Hebrew. There is another lesser known, but similar word, Shalem, complete or whole. The difference between Shalom and Shalem is the letter vav. Shalom has a vav. Shalem doesn’t have a Vav.

In the covenant of peace offered to Pinchas, the letter vav is cracked horizontally across its middle. Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin explained that Pinchas’ covenant was offered with or without a vav. With a vav it was a covenant of peace, without a vav it was a covenant of wholeness. Thus the cracked vav implies that the vav is both present and absent. The covenant is for either peace or wholeness.[2]

Peace can only be brought between two differing parties. They can be brought together with a lasting resolution, but they will forever remain separate. There will be peace and even love, but they will not be one. They can’t ever be a single organism because they aren’t one. There is nothing wrong with peace. It demonstrates that even opposites can attract, but there is something fulfilling about becoming whole.

Wholeness can only be achieved in a single organism. It can have many moving parts, but if it is a single organism its parts will make it whole.

There are two ways to bring the Jewish people together. One is to bring them peace. The other is to introduce wholeness. Peace is brought about when we resolve differences and negotiate settlements. But peace is still just peace. Wholeness comes when you render the entire people a single organism. Just like a body has many moving parts, so do the Jewish people. Just like the body is rendered complete by all its parts, so is Israel.

What makes the body a single organism? It’s organizing power, the brain. As the central control for all organs and limbs, the brain binds them. It infuses them with a single life force and makes them one.

The collective brain of the Jewish people is the Torah. You can spend your days bringing peace to the Jewish people or you can spend your time making them whole by teaching Torah. The Torah is our single organizing power. It is the Divine intelligence bank given us by G-d to study, absorb and incorporate. To be uplifted. To become a better people. A single people. The Torah is our common spiritual life line. It organizes us spiritually and makes us one.  A single organism.

Pinchas was a Kohen (priest) and the Kohen has two functions. One, as modeled by Aaron the first High Priest, is to bring peace between husband and wife, man and friend. The second is to teach Torah. With this covenant Pinchas was inducted into the priestly family and it could take two forms. If he would teach Torah, it would be a covenant of wholeness, Shalem without the vav. If he would fail to teach Torah, but invest his efforts in instilling peace, it would be a covenant of peace. Shalom, with a vav.

A Broken Whole

This is where I return to the broken whole. Have you noticed in all this discussion that the symbol for making a disparate people whole is a broken letter? The broken vav turns the word shalom, peace between many, into Shalem, a single whole organism. Why does brokenness lead to completeness?

There is nothing more complete than a broken heart. A heart that never breaks is a heart that can’t be touched. It is so filled with itself that it leaves no space for others. You can’t complete it and you can’t break it. It is whole. Sealed. Isolated. And miserable. Nobody touched it and nobody can. You know, what they say, if it aint broke, don’t fix it. Well this heart is broke. Emotionally broke.

How do you fix a heart gone broke? How do you make it whole? You break it. You show this person that it is miserable to be alone. It is lonely to be right all the time. It is burdensome to need to be right all the time. It is a relief to be wrong sometimes. It is uplifting to know that you can be vulnerable to others and touched by others. Protecting your completeness has drained your soul.  It is time to break it open and make it whole again. Time to become a broken whole.

A people, like a heart, needs a hole through its middle to be whole. we learn from the broken vav that to be whole, to become a single organism, we need our hearts blown wide open. No matter how much Torah we learn, if we have no concern for others, we won’t be whole. We can’t reach others and be reached by others if our hearts aren’t open. If they can’t touch us, if we are not vulnerable, if we sit aloof, our Torah won’t make us part of the organism.

Rabbi Zevin was right to say that the Torah, our collective brain, renders us one. But there is more. It takes a broken vav to make it so. The vav is a tall letter. It stands proud as every Jew should. It stands with courage as every Jew should. But our pride isn’t in ourselves. It’s in our Judaism. Jewish pride connects. Self-pride destructs. When the vav, the tall standing pride, is unbroken, complete and secure, we aren’t whole, Shalem. We can have peace perhaps, but not completeness. To be whole, we need a broken vav. Then we become a broken whole.

G-d and Jew

The conclusion is as stark as it is simple. The path to Torah is paved with unity. To have the Torah means to become one. But we can only have the Torah, if our hearts are open to each other.

G-d is father to every Jew. If we want access to the father, each of His children must be in our hearts. If we are closed to even one, the father won’t want us. We can’t have the Torah, We can’t have G-d, we can’t be whole, unless the seal around our hearts has broken and we are open to all.

In very simple words this means that it is time to away with judging and criticizing others. We are all guilty and we are all victims. It’s time to stop. Let’s be whole again. Let’s be a broken whole. Then, we have been promised, Moshiach will, at long last, arrive. We will rebuild our Temple and bring offerings to G-d. Then we won’t just be at peace. We will be truly and really whole. A broken whole.

[1] Numbers 25: 12-13.

[2] Letorah Ulemoadim.