Weekly Torah Commentary — Beha’alotcha June 7, 2012

There is something that occurs in this week’s Torah portion that is unique and somewhat curious. No where else in Torah or, for that matter, in the entire Tanach is this phenomenon seen.

In Bamidbar/Numbers 10: 35-36, we read “When the Ark would journey, Moses said, ‘Arise, Hashem, and let Your foes be scattered; let those that hate You flee from before You.’ And when it rested, he would say, ‘Rest peacefully, O Hashem, among the myriad thousands of Israel.'”

These verses are very familiar to all who attend synagogue services for the first verse is said as the Scrolls are removed from the Ark for the reading of the Torah and the second verse is said as the Scrolls are returned to the Ark at the end of the Torah service.

What is unique is that these two verses are bracketed in the Hebrew text by inverted ‘Nun’s’ (pronounced noon) – one before the verses and one after the verses. The ‘Nun’ which looks like this: J – is printed in the Torah flipped in the opposite direction and upside down. And the ‘J’ is one of five letters in the Hebrew alphabet that has a different form when used at the end of a word. The ending’Nun, called ‘Nun sofit’ is a long straight line.

The question immediately arises, “Why the Nun? Why not the Aleph, the first letter of the alphabet?
Or the Shin which is seen on every Mezuzzah?

The Hebrew Alphabet is more than an alphabet. It is also a treasure of deep spiritual insight. Every letter has its character, its meanings and its individual significance that provide us with a great deal of meditation material.

The letter J is found in both of its forms in the Hebrew word for FAITHFUL which is spelled Nun-Aleph-Mem-Nun sofit and pronouned ‘Ne-emah’. This word, therefore, begins and ends with Nun just as the two verses of our parsha are bracketed before and behind with Nun. From this, the letter Nun has been symbolic of Hashem’s faithfulness throughout the centuries. He is the pre-eminent Faithful One who is utterly trustworthy and upon whose mercy and lovingkindness we can depend for all eternity.

What then is the message of the J bracketing these two verses?

There are a number of opinions and I’ll share just a couple.

The Ramban said that these verses are deliberately bracketed to teach us that though Israel feel as though everything is upside down and backwards, Hashem is always there watching, protecting, embracing His people – the Faithful God who never wavers in His love.

When you look at these two verse in the Hebrew text, you can readily see how it looks as if the two Nuns are literally embracing the verses, just as Hashem embraces Israel, arises to fight her enemies, which are really His enemies and then rests peacefully with her in times of tranquility.

Furthermore, when Israel — the nation — and/or the individual misses the mark, falls or otherwise strays from the ways of the Torah, these two Nuns are to remind us that everytime we turn back to Him, Hashem is always faithful and trustworthy to forgive and embrace, to lift you up and lead you on. No downfall lasts forever if we but turn to the Ever Faithful One who brings light to our darkness and spirit to our lives so that in the end we stand erect and tall — like the Nun sofit, tall and straight – in the presence of Hashem.

Two other words come to mind that also begin with a J.

The Hebrew word for candle is ner (pronounced nair) and is spelled Nun-resh; and the Hebrew word for soul is neshama and is spelled Nun-Shin-Mem-Hei. The verse from Mishe/Proverbs comes to mind: The soul of man is the candle of Hashem.

Each of us is called to be His candle in this world and only through FAITHFUL adherence to His Torah and to His ways will we accomplish that goal. The presence of the J at the beginning of each of these words calls us to that faithfulness.

In Tune with Torah = meditating on God’s faithfulness and expressing to Him our utter gratitude for His all encompassing goodness to us.

Shabbat Shalom

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