Pinchas 5781 – On Losing Some of Your Water

By: James Rosenberg

There is a book by P.J. Long, a mom who suffered a traumatic brain injury when she fell off a horse. In her book, Gifts from a Broken Jar, she recounts this story from India about a village boy who brought water to a wealthy man.

Every day, the boy walked several miles from the village to the river and back, carrying water in two clay jars, one in his left hand and one in his right. The man paid for the water that was delivered – one full jar and one half full; the jar in one hand was cracked and its water leaked out along the roadside. Over the long months, the boy made many trips carrying water.

One day as he sat to rest before returning to the river, a spirit in the cracked jar spoke to him. “I am sorry, Master, that you have to work harder because of me. If I were perfect like your other jar, you would not need to take so many trips. And you could collect more money! I am sorry that because of me, your life is more challenged.”

The boy was surprised to hear such words. He did not think his life was being tested. He replied to the spirit, “Because of you, I am very lucky. A broken jar makes life beautiful. Come, let me show you.”

Together they walked back to the river. AND, one side of the path was bare and dusty. But along the other side, where water had trickled down from the broken jar, the way was strewn with wildflowers.

PJ Long saw the years of her life following her brain injury reflected in this story. Although her recuperation entailed tremendous struggle, she noted the unexpected gifts along the way. She wrote: “Even though things turned out differently than I might have hoped for three years ago, I now see how a broken jar can make life beautiful.”

This week’s Torah portion reflects this spiritual lesson. Last week’s portion ended with a crisis. The Israelites began to participate in an idolatrous and a orgiastic cult-like manner that led to a plague erupting among the people. Then, a priest named Pinchas killed an Israelite man and a Moabite woman who were ‘in congress’ near the sanctuary, and the plague halted.

God gave Pinchas a covenant of peace for him and for his descendants for all time. However, the text hints that Pinchas’ peace was broken.

The Hebrew letter vav is a vertical line. However, in the Torah scroll, when God gives Pinchas the covenant of peace, the stem of the letter vav in the word shalom does not extend down all the way. As Rabbi Harold Kushner notes, the missing piece of the stem indicates that the kind of peace achieved by violence will always be a “flawed and a incomplete peace.”

Thus, the portion moves from a crisis of broken peace to celebration, the same spiritual arc that PJ followed.

By making peace with our brokenness, we are more likely to cherish life.

Like the broken jar in the story, we must continue to work toward sustaining life. AND, hopefully, the wildflowers of summer will always be present as you continue your journey.

Shabbat Shalom