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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

A Prayer for the Severed Vav

This poem is for the Siyum of Masechet Kiddushin, which was completed yesterday in the Daf Yomi cycle. Today a new order was begun, Seder Nezikin, that begins with Baba Kamma.

As you know, if you have followed this blog, I write one poem for each of the masechtot that we complete in this Daf Yomi cycle. Many of them are listed in this blog under the heading Daf Yomi. For this last month of this cycle, it has been difficult to concentrate on the material and I wasn't successful in finding a topic that I felt comfortable writing about; that is, until I found on Daf 66B a note about the broken letter vav in the word Shalom.

"From where do we derive that the service of a blemished priest is retroactively invalid? Rav Yehuda says that Shmuel says: As the verse states with regard to Pinchas: “Wherefore say: Behold, I give to him My covenant of peace [shalom]” (Numbers 25:12), which means that he receives the covenant when he is whole [shalem], but not when he is blemished and lacking a limb. The Gemara comments: But shalom is written, rather than shalem. Rav Naḥman says: The letter vav in the word shalom is severed. According to tradition, this letter is written with a break in it, and therefore the word can be read as though the vav were missing."

Kiddushin 66B

The severed vav appears in Torah in Parshat Pinchas, after Pinchas, the zealot, slays Zimri and Cosbi. There are reasons that the rabbis give as to why the severed vav must appear broken in every kosher Sefer Torah, but the base lesson is that peace is, indeed, a fragile thing. Difficult to make, to maintain and bring back together when it is broken.

This poem will not be like others I have written, where I try to take from the concepts we have reviewed and write about them. I apologize to you about this. Instead, this poem will remind us that as we learned Masechet Kiddushin, great damage was done to the peace in our land. This will be a time that we will remember forever. It will go down as a sad time in Jewish history, but let us still hope that peace will someday come.

I always send my poems to our teachers, Anne and Yardaena, before I read them at our siyyums. Anne replied to my email, saying that she was glad that I was able to find something specific in the Masechet when I searched. Indeed, perhaps that is one of the lessons of the Daf for me. If you look, you will find.

Please note that I take poetic license in this poem about the severed vav.

A Prayer For the Severed Vav

Parshat Pinchas:

There it is.

Do you see it?

The vav of Shalom. broken.

a tiny fissure at its heart.

I want to enter into the space between the upper and lower vav. Crawl into that infinitesimal space, that filament of emptiness,

a void that separates war from peace wholeness from separateness. I want to rise up in that space between top and bottom, uncurl myself in the darkness. Reach up, standing

on the shoulders of Avot and Imahot,

of our grandparents and great grandparents,

of fellow Jews everywhere.

I want to pull with my hands at the top of the upper letter vav. With all the strength of Shimshon Hagibor, and bring the top of the vav down, connecting it with the vav below that patiently waits and yearns. And then I will I connect it, the top and the bottom of that vav, with all my heart, with all my soul and all my might

and bind it together.

Clamp its broken edges .

Seal it as a sign of peace.

I want peace.

I want the word Shalom.

Ribbono Shel Haolam,

You, who in Your infinite wisdom,

created the heavens and the earth

darkness and light.

Separations between the ordinary and holy,

between Israel and the nations,

Grant Your people, B’nei Yisrael,

a vav not separated, but whole.

Bring peace to The Land

Bring peace to Your people

May they be united.

לב אחד.

One heart.

עם אחד.

One nation.

For more on the unusual broken vav of the word Shalom in Parshat Pinchas:

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