In this week’s Torah portion, we read the story of Pinchas, whose murderous actions frame the way our faith treats religious fanaticism. The narrative of this story begins with God’s anger with the People of Israel for worshiping false idols. God sends a plague as a punishment, and in an effort to placate God, Pinchas (the grandson of Aaron) takes matters into his own hands. In a zealous act of rage, Pinchas impales a couple while they are in bed together.
The murderous act of Pinchas actually works. The plague is lifted, and God extends a brit shalom – a covenant of peace. The story would end here were it not for the horrific idea that out of such violence could come peace.
In response to this troubling story, the calligraphy of the Torah preserves a moral commentary of its own which serves as a cautionary lesson against religious fanaticism. This lesson is woven into the actual calligraphy of the word shalom (see the image above).
This anomaly in the calligraphy is called, the Broken Vav, and it is the only letter in the entire Torah which is intentionally written in a broken and incomplete way. The custom of breaking the Vav in half dates back to the earliest Torah scrolls, and throughout our history the phenomenon of the Broken Vav has served to teach us that any peace that is attained through acts of violence is considered incomplete and broken.
We live in a world where dreadful actions are constantly being perpetrated and justified in the name of religion. This global phenomenon has no boundaries and is not relegated to any single faith. Zealots are zealots, and their destructive and narrow-minded, hate-filled actions have been in existence throughout human history.
This is something we must keep in mind today, as we strive to work toward sustainable peace at home and abroad.