Yehdah Ha-Levi wrote, “my heart is in the east, while I am in the uttermost end of the west”. It is a line from one of his most famous poems, about his longing to be in Jerusalem while he was so very far from it, at what seemed to him to be the other end of the earth. With all that has gone on in Israel recently, I suspect that many of you have related personally to Ha-Levi’s words. I hope then that what I write about this Shabbat carries a special meaning, as I write to you from “the east”, being in Jerusalem prior to my coming to camp in a few short days. Indeed Camp Ramah and Israel always seem interconnected, as they are the two places in the world that allow us to live a full and complete Jewish life. More than that, as Israel has gone through one of its most difficult weeks in recent years, the prayers and thoughts of those in Wingdale are intimately connected to those of us here in Jerusalem.
Last night as I was walking home, for the first time I heard an azakah, a warning siren telling us that a missile had been launched and would hit somewhere in the vicinity of Jerusalem. I was reminded at that moment that we are still waiting to fulfill the vision of Hatikvah, lihiot am chofshe b’artzeinu, to be a free people in the land of our ancestors. When will that moment ever come? When will the parents of our children on Ramah Seminar no longer feel a bit anxious about the situation here in Israel? When will those of us with children in the Israeli army feel confident that they are there to insure peace, and not to do battle in war?
There is a unique word that occurs at the beginning of this week’s parasha, Pinchas. You see, every letter in the Torah must be written legibly and correctly. If even one letter is either illegible or split in two that Sefer Torah is no longer kosher for reading. The one exception is Numbers 25:10, where the word shalom must be written in a way that the vav of shalom is “broken”, written with a separation between the top half and the bottom half. The verse itself concerns Pinchas, who is given here a covenant of “shalom” by God. What is the meaning of this broken vav? Why is it that something that normally makes a Sefer Torah pasul (unfit) is now necessary to make it kasher (fit)?
It seems to me that this tradition of the broken vuv reflects the problems that a modern State of Israel constantly faces. It teaches us that the idea of shalom is not really a state of being, it is a process of becoming. That process may never be complete-it will always have more that needs to be done. It is a process that by it’s very nature will always be broken, but it is also a process that we are committed (through the covenant with Pinchas) to always pursue. Even when our young people are ruthlessly kidnapped and murdered, we must pursue peace. Even when one of our own commits a crime of revenge, we must, as Israel did, seek justice so that we can in turn continue to pursue peace. Even when our enemies send us to shelters to avoid their missiles of destruction, we are still obligated to pursue peace, because we live by our ideals, not theirs.
The strange contradiction is that only by recognizing the brokenness of shalom, ultimately the Torah, and by extension our lives as Jews, is made complete. We may live with a broken shalom, both in the Torah and in our lives, but it reminds us that we must continue to work towards the day when that broken vuv will be made whole. When that day comes, not only will our hearts be in the east, they will feel the fullness of peace in the land of Israel and none will be afraid.
Rabbi Steve Kane