Dedicated to the loving memory of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, my teacher and mentor who died on July 3, 2014. Zayde (grandfather) of Jewish Renewal, Reb Zalman transformed the world of Jewish spirituality and built bridges for peace – both within the human spirit and between peoples. May Reb Zalman’s profound love and teaching continue to bless us.
How can we convert the energy of anger or pain into peace and wholeness?
The Torah reading for this week (Pinchas) begins with the story of the “zealous” warrior Pinchas, who appeases God’s wrath against the Israelites for following idolatrous ways by slaying a chief perpetrator. The text narrates that Pinchas and his descendants received the divine reward of Brit Shalom, the Covenant of Peace (Num. 25:10-14):
And God spoke to Moses saying, “Pinchas, the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, turned My anger away from the children of Israel… Behold I give to him My covenant of peace, and it shall be unto him and to his seed after him.”
One of the ways we can make this story relevant to our time is to make it personal. This past Shabbat, I had the honor to lead an afternoon prayer service with Rabbi Dr. Shaya Isenberg, another faculty member in the ALEPH Ordination Program where I serve as Rosh Hashpa’ah (Director of Spiritual Direction). Invoking this Torah reading about Pinchas, Rabbi Shaya invited us to ask how we ourselves manifest the Brit Shalom (Covenant of Peace) that is our heritage. Reflecting that shalom connotes not only peace but also wholeness and completeness (from the Hebrew shalem), Rabbi Shaya invited us to reflect from each of the Four Worlds described in Kabbalah. You might wish to ask yourself these four questions as well:
Assiyah / Physicality. How am I in my body? Is there any part of me that does not feel whole or peaceful? How can I bring more wholeness to my body?
Yetzirah / Emotion. How am I in my heart? Am I anxious, troubled, angry or sad? How can I bring more wholeness and peace to my heart?
Briyah / Intellect. How am I in my mind? Are there troublesome thoughts that restrain me from wholeness? How can I bring peace and wholeness to my mind
Atzilut / Spirit. How am I in spirit? Do I feel connected or disconnected to what lies within and beyond? How can I lift my soul to a higher plane of peace, wholeness and unity?
Our answers may change over time, and they should. Like all covenants, the Brit Shalom is dynamic: it asks of us deep integrity and a willingness to change in service of peace and wholeness. Such is spiritual life, and such is the calling of Pinchas today.
Even when we feel absolutely sure we are right and act zealously to vindicate that cause, Torah calls us to convert our inner Pinchas, the energy of righteous anger, into action that will lead to greater peace and wholeness. May it be so.