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Pinchas 5781 ~ July 2, 2021

The Liberty Bell and the Hebrew letter “vav,” found in the beginning of our Torah reading for this Shabbat, both have something in common. One represents the concept of freedom, the other constitutes one of the four letters within the word “shalom.” Both have cracks; both represent the fragile nature of freedom and peace within our world.

As we celebrate July 4th, we, as Americans, understand the concept of freedom. Here in the New London area, with a Coast Guard Academy and a US submarine base, we understand how our nation rings that fractured bell as we not only protect our values within our borders, but throughout the world.

Our Torah reading represents a different type of peace and protection of values. It was a pact of peace between God and the children of Israel as a response to the violent zealotry of Pinchas, the grandson of the Kohen Hagadol, the High Priest, Aaron. As our Torah reading opens, Pinchas is rewarded for his actions of stopping the immorality that brought the wrath of a plague upon the Israelite people.

The “small” or cracked “vav” that is only found in the Torah scroll itself, reminds we as Jews, not only of the importance of following the moral codes of the Torah, but that we must be cautious on how we not only define, but how we continue to ensure that the values of liberty and peace are protected values within our society. While some praise Pinchas, many find fault in his violent extremism, spearing and killing an Israelite man and a Moabite woman who were engaged in that immorality, bringing an end to the plague.

Our Etz Hayim Chumash commentary suggests that the pact of peace between God and Pinchas became a symbol of a need to protect ourselves “from the destructive impulse within him.” While our tradition teaches us the concept that sometimes we must go to the extreme, such as going to war to protect the values of freedom and peace, we must be cautious on using such force. On this weekend in America, as we witness the closing of more bases and the return home of more troops from Afghanistan, we sense that America has done its part in attempting to serve as a protector of those concepts throughout the world. Yet, at the same time, we are always saddened by not only the cracks that our found within our world, but the mere fact that our country must send troops to protect and teach. The loss of lives of our young who served as our emissaries and protectors, and the changed lives of our veterans who returned home bearing the cracks and scars of the Liberty Bell and the Hebrew letter “vav,” are reminders to us of what we must value.

While our Torah reading suggests that the hero is the zealot Phinehas, this week we have learned who the true heroes are. They are the men, women and dogs who painstakingly have spent countless hours combing through the collapsed condominium in Surfside, Fl. It is the unity of the groups from Miami-Dade, the IDF, the Mexican relief crew, and Hatzalah that conquers the divide of the crack in the rescue effort. How these brave men and women enter a collapsed building, endangering their own lives, is awe inspiring. As one colleague and friend who is on site shared with me, he so appreciates seeing Hatzalah on site. As I listened to the news, I, too, am overwhelmed by how the search and rescue teams have valued Hatzalah’s Jewish values that every individual trapped under the rubble, and their body, must be valued for the soul that was contained within it. The heroes are those individuals who are providing comfort to the families of the victims. They are those who are reaching out providing food to the workers and the families, clothing, the spiritual and psychological care, and all the other needs of those who have lost their homes and their loved ones.  It is those individuals who are simply there with caring thoughts.

On this July 4th weekend, we pray that there are survivors. That hope still exists, is not only the values of the bell and the vav, but the cracks that create the spaces from where the victims and their families can find peace, in whatever reality it is.



Sat, June 25 2022 26 Sivan 5782