At the end of last week’s parasha, with a plague sweeping through the Israelites following some abhorrent behaviour on their part, Pinchas grabbed his spear and did something drastic. This quelled the plague and shocked the people back to the ethical lifestyle they were supposed to be practising on their way to the Land.
The plague stopped rather immediately, seemingly indicating God’s satisfaction with Pinchas’s action. Yet as this week’s parasha opens, God chooses to reward Pinchas specifically with a covenant of peace.
If the nuance behind this choice of reward is not apparent enough, there is another hint to God’s true feelings about Pinchas’s choice of action. In our Torah scrolls, the word שלום, shalom, “peace,” in the mention of the “covenant of peace” is purposely written with a slice through the letter vav, indicating that the peace was incomplete. Violence resulting in death, even when fully justified as an act of self-defence, cannot bring about perfect peace. (To the Kabbalist, the letter vav is seen as a phallic symbol; the slice through it indicates God’s displeasure with impulsive acts of aggression.)
To our credit, modern-day Israel experiences this tension daily. Israel has fought numerous wars in self-defence. She continues to maintain an army to protect all her citizens from those who wish to harm them. She takes pride in the expertise of her armed forces, and Jewry worldwide prays for the safety of the IDF and the success of its missions. And yet we never glorify war or weapons, and never celebrate the death of our enemies.
Ultimately, the shalom we want has no place for any loss of life. The shalom we dream about includes all people on Earth living in harmony and mutual respect. May this happen speedily in our days.