A Double-Edged Sword
This past week I had the delight and privilege of participating in the bris
of our newest grandson, born to my son Eli and Tzivie in Jerusalem. It was
also an opportunity to bask for a few days in the unique luminance and
inspiration that only radiates in 'Yerushalayim shel Zahav'.
One of the less comforting realities that hit me during this trip was the
ever-widening gap that separates the secular and religious factions. Never
before have the fundamental differences between the two groups appeared so
irreconcilable. The rhetoric has gone well beyond the line of what might
have been acceptable-even to hardened Sabras.
As a deeply religious Jew I strongly believe that the time-honored status
quo must be maintained in order to preserve a sense of national peace and
unity. But how can there be peace when such sharp differences separate the
different camps? How can there be dialogue and respect when there is no room
for compromise? Yet how can one respect those who seek to compromise our
most cherished life values?
It is a question that all those engaged in outreach and kiruv must
constantly grapple with. How can one reach out with warmth, respect and
acceptance to Jews of all backgrounds and affiliations without compromising
one's own core values and beliefs?
Perhaps an insight from the opening Chapter of this week's Torah portion
will provide us with some guidance on this thorny issue. Society today
extols the value of pluralism and multiculturalism. Liberals preach that all
cultures are morally equal and therefore must be equally respected. Only
then can world peace be achieved, or so the dogma goes.
Undoubtedly, peace requires that we respect each other's human rights, a key
one affirming the right to practice what you believe. But a distinction must
be drawn between respecting other individuals and respecting their life choices.
At the beginning of the Parsha, we find Pinchas zealously standing up to the
wave of debauchery that had swept away sections of the Jewish people. With a
dagger he stabbed to death the two main perpetrators, Zimri and Kozbi, and
succeeded in halting a Divine plague that was poised to strike the nation.
For his courage and self-sacrifice, Pinchas was awarded by Hashem with an
everlasting covenant of peace.
How striking! Pinchas' zealotry that outwardly appeared to be the antithesis
of shalom, of accommodation, was in fact a life-sustaining force that
elicited Hashem's covenant of eternal peace.
This is symbolized by the unusual way the word "peace," shalom, in written
in the Torah at this juncture. The Mesoratic text (handed down from
generation to generation all the way from Sinai) teaches us that the letter
vav in this word is split in the middle. It is thus written almost like two
yuds placed one on top of the other.
How strange. Why the deviation from the way the letter vav is customarily
written, as one unbroken stroke?
The commentaries teach us that the letter vav, which is used as a prefix to
mean "and," implies chibur, connectedness. Vav never stands alone; it is
always attached as a prefix to another word.
In the same vein, the semantic definition of vav is "a hook" because it is
the symbol of connectivity and uninterrupted flow. We mortals stand upright
like the letter vav, reflecting our divine mission to connect heaven and
earth, becoming the conduit of Hashem's bountiful goodness on this earth
while reflecting His heavenly values in our day-to-day lives.
It would seem that peace, too, requires an uninterrupted flow of reciprocity
and unqualified acceptance of one another. Yet true peace can also only be
established by a separation denoting the boundaries and stark difference
between holy and profane, true and false, light and darkness.
Advocating for social unity , pluralism and rainbow coalitions might provide
the sensation and look of peaceful coexistence . It cannot build genuine and
lasting harmony. The ultimate objective of each individual's allegiance is
the preservation of their own personal liberties and freedom. It is only
when we highlight the clear distinctions that define us that we can we
achieve true peace. By blurring evil and good we end up with a murky mess
that drains life of authentic meaning and joy.
Only when we clearly separate ourselves from elements that disturb our
Divine connection can we aspire to achieve a spiritual flow of connectivity
that bonds us for eternity to our Creator.
Text Copyright © 2012 by Rabbi Naftali Reich and Torah.org.
Rabbi Reich is on the faculty of the Ohr Somayach Tanenbaum Education Center.