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Mordechai Pinchas Sofer

Throughout the halacha it is stressed that letters must be written as a complete guf (body) and if they are faded or partly illegible then the work is invalid.


However there is one exception were the scribe is mandated to make the letter incomplete. The letter in question in thevav in the word shalom in Numbers 25:12.  This must be written with a break in the vertical line according to the Ritva (R. Yom Tov ben Avraham Ishbili Spain c. 1250-1330), though some think it either a small vav or a normal vav but a little shorter "in front".


The following six suggestions and graphic (left) come from Hadaf Hayomi (a regular newsletter on the talmud), explaining the possible options.  I have added a few of my own thoughts in brackets:

1. It is a small vav (though this is not mentioned as one of the small letters and would be referred to as z’ira (small) and not k’tia)
2. The leg of the vav is shorter (though this in part would look a bit like a yud without the curve to the leg, so may be declared pasul because of that)
3. First a yud is written (though without the curve) and the a space is left and then line is added to complete the vav.
4. A regular vav is written and then a crack is made in the leg by scraping out the ink and (this would divide it into two)
5. The same again, but this time the crack is a diagonal nick which doesn’t quite break the letter into two (I have a problem with 4 and 5 as it rather suggests chok tochot, carving out to form the letter as this particular letter form would be formed by scraping and not writing).
6. A vav with a slightly short leg is written then a small line is added to complete the length.

It would seem that 3 or 6 would be the most suitable.

The text concerns a covenant of peace (brit shalom) that is offered to Pinchas the somewhat over-zealous and fiery priest who skewered Zimri, the leader of the tribe of Shimon and Kozbi a midianite woman. Pinchas' act stopped both the Israelite's bout of immoral behaviour and the plague they had been suffering because of it, and he was rewarded for it.

However even the Massoretes must have been shocked by the violence of Pinchas' action as they made his blessing only partial through the broken vav which explains that true peace cannot be brought about through violence and that the two concepts are incompatible.

Similarly the Talmud (Kiddushin 66b) notes that the service of a person must be perfect and without blemish, by reading shalom without the vav as shalem - whole, perfect, sound and translate Numbers 25:12 as ‘behold I give to him my covenant of perfection’ - only when he is perfect and not found wanting.

Mordechai Pinchas

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