In light of this week’s continued onslaught of missiles from Gaza into Israel, it’s abundantly clear that the dream of shalom is not going materialize any time soon. But our prayers are replete with hopes for peace. Are these empty prayers, at least in the short term?
Maybe we need to re-calibrate our definition of shalom in order to make our prayers continually relevant. That’s what the Torah seems to do with Pinhas in this week’s portion, named especially for him. You may recall that last week, Pinhas, like everyone else, was repulsed by the inappropriate public display of affection between the Israelite prince and the Midianite cultic prostitute. But unlike everyone else, he acted, impaling them as one. This week, in response, God bestows a Divine covenant of peace–“briti shalom” (Numbers 25:12).
Apparently, Pinhas is going to need this covenant; the family of the dead Israelite, Zimri ben Salu, would be entitled to respond with vengeance against Pinhas and his entire family. The likelihood that Pinhas will live out with days in a state of absolute serenity–what we may think of when we hear the word shalom–is pretty slim.
Tonight, at Kabbalat Shabbat services, I’ll share Rabbenu Bahye‘s comment on this phrase. He’s going to suggest that the word shalom is an abbreviation of two Hebrew words:shelo lamut–that he won’t die. That’s a very different image to associate with peace–the simple absence of death. Is God promising him immortality? Wait until you hear where Rabbenu Bahye goes next!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise