Parshat Beha’aloscha 5779: The Inverted Hebrew Letter Nuns — Buffer Between Tragic Events

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua for Beha’aloscha is being sponsored by Avraham and Miriam Deutsch and family of Efrat dedicated for good health for our Chayalim and for refuah shleima for the Cholim of our community: including Atara Tziona bat Shulamit Gila (Gherman) and Tanya Aviv bas Sarah (Stein).

You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.

Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3

Parshat Beha’aloscha 5779: The Inverted Hebrew Letter Nuns — Buffer Between Tragic Events

by Moshe Burt

About half-way through our Parshat Beha’aloscha, Torah relates:

“It was in the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth of the month, the cloud was lifted from upon the Mishkan. The B’nei Yisrael journeyed according to their journeys from the Wilderness of Sinai, and the cloud rested in the Wilderness of Paran.” (Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 10, posukim 11-12 as rendered to English in The Sapirstein Edition, The Torah with Rashi Commentary, pages 108-109)

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin writes context on our Parshat Beha’aloscha in his sefer, “Unlocking The Torah Text” (pages 99-100):

The journey from Sinai begins in earnest, only to be interrupted in the text… in [an] increasingly bewildering way…. immediately after the journey from Sinai begins. Two sentences, familiar from their eventual inclusion in the… [prayer] liturgy, are set off from the rest of the Torah text and enclosed by two inverted Hebrew letter “Nuns.”

The strangely delineated passage reads…:

“When the Aron (the Ark) would journey, Moshe said, ‘Arise Hashem, and let Your foes be scattered, let those who hate You flee from before You.’ And when it rested, he would say, ‘Return, Hashem, among the myriad thousands of Israel.’” (Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 10, posukim 35-36 as rendered to English in Rabbi Shmuel Goldin’s sefer, “Unlocking The Torah Text” for Sefer Bamidbar, page 99)

Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel maintains that these sentences…. serve as a buffer between two tragic events: the disastrous manner in which the B’nei Yisrael leave Mount Sinai and the tragic rebellion [the complaints] of Taveira that immediately follows their departure.

Rebbe (Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi) argues that this passage is set apart because of its significance as a “book unto itself.”

The separation of this passage from the rest of the text, therefore, transforms the five books of Torah into seven books, with Sefer Bamidbar divided into three sections. (Rabbi Goldin citing Talmud Bavli Shabbos 115b-116a)

Preceding these posukim are the posukim which speak about the journey of the Aron and of B’nei Yisrael from Har Sinai to their next resting place, “…a three day distance…” (Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 10, posukim 33 & 34).

Many commentators speak of the section delineated by the inverted “nuns” as a separation between the aveirot of B’nai Yisrael so as to not bring about a Chazaka (recording of three Jewish sins in succession).

We learn subsequently about the people’s complaints about lack of quail and in next week’s parsha Shelach, about the sin of the Miraglim (the spies). But what was the first aveirah which brought about the separation, by inverted “nuns”, of “VaYehi B’nso’a HaAron V’yOmer Moshe…”? (Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 10, posukim 35-36)

It seems that the attitude of B’nai Yisrael in departing from Har Sinai is totally at odds with Moshe Rabbeinu’s paradigm derech of showing HaKaras HaTov, such as by the Maka of Dom (the plague of blood) where he showed his thankfulness for the water which protected him as a new-born by having Aaron take his staff and strike the water. (Artscroll Stone Chumash, Sefer Shemos, Rashi on Perek 7, posuk 19, page 327)

Thus, we understand, as Rabbi Goldin writes:

Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel identifies the Jews’ departure from Sinai as a “tragedy.”

The Talmud… explain[s] that the problem lay not in the retreat from Sinai (which was, of course, essential to the nation’s development) but in the character of that retreat. (“Unlocking The Torah Text”, page 101)

The Midrash indicates that they were:

“Happy to leave that holy place because they afraid that Hashem might give them more and more commandments. Thus, although they traveled in compliance with Hashem’s will, their attitude made a sin of a journey that should have been the fulfillment of Hashem’s oath to the Avos.” (Artscroll Stone Chumash, page 787, commentary on Perek 10, posukim 33 & 34)

In addition, the Rashi on posuk 33 indicates that:

Although the posuk says that the journey “… was a distance that normally would have required three days of travel, … they (the B’nei Yisrael) covered it in one day.” (Artscroll Stone Chumash, page 787, commentary on Perek 10, posuk 33)

Rabbi Goldin notes (ibid, page 101):

Commenting on the biblical phrase “The B’nei Yisrael traveled… from … Sinai [the Mountain of Hashem],” Rabbi Chiya Bar Chanina proclaims: “They turned away from following Hashem.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Talmud Bavli 116a)

Rabbi Artscroll (The Artscroll Stone Chumash) mentions a Ramban, which is echoed by a citing by Rabbi Goldin (Unlocking The Torah Text” for Sefer Bamidbar, page 101,Yalkut Shimoni, Beha’aloscha 247:729) on posuk 35 which cites a Midrash which indicates that the B’nai Yisrael:

“… fled from the mountain of G’d like a child running away from school.”

Rabbi Goldin continues (ibid, page 101-102):

Clearly, to the rabbinic mind, The Jews sin, not because they leave Har Sinai, but because they leave Har Sinai behind.

Overwhelmed by the monumental responsibilities thrust upon them during their confrontation with Hashem, the people are only too happy to flee the scene of that confrontation. By escaping Sinai, they hope to escape responsibility to Hashem’s Law, as well.

While Torah does not testify outright to the nature of the Jews’ departure from Sinai, the text tells us what occurs immediately thereafter. Three days out from the site of the Revelation, the nation descends into rebellion for no apparent reason. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 11, posukim 1-3) This revolt launches a cascading series of tragic uprisings which culminate in the devastating sin of the spies, the event which seals the fate of… [that] generation. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Bamidbar, Perakim 11:4 -14:45) These self-inflicted tragedies are proof enough to the rabbis of the mindset that must have marked the Jews’ departure from Sinai. Only a people determined to “leave Sinai behind” could sin so grieviously, so soon after experiencing the power of Revelation.

We can now understand why the Torah specifically creates a buffer to distinguish the departure from Sinai from the ensuing events, devastating as they may be. Hashem wants us to understand that the Jews’ “flight” from the scene of the Revelation is not just another tragedy. It is, instead, the root cause of all tragedies that follow. Had our ancestors truly understood the significance of Revelation, had they carried the imperative of Sinai with them upon their departure, they would not have descended into the immediate subsequent rebellions. [That] generation… would have marched directly and triumphantly into the Land of Israel rather than perishing in the wilderness.

….Hashem inserts an eternal message that is simple, powerful and clear…: To succeed as My chosen people you must carry Sinai with you each day. “And when the Aron would journey…” The Torah must accompany your journeys through time and across the globe. “And when it would rest…” In each of your resting places, in your communities, towns, villages, cities, My Law must define the parameters of your daily lives and determine the character of your societies.

So critical is the message of this passage to… the Jews’ departure from Sinai, maintains Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel, that the Torah… places them here [meaning Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 10, posukim 35-36 between tragedies].

So significant is the eternal message conveyed by this passage, maintains Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, that it is considered a book unto itself.

We can only hope, that with the flaws and potentially tragic transgressions of our current generations, that we can collectively internalize and actuate the lessons behind the inverted Hebrew letter “Nuns” and thus be worthy of the Ge’ula Shlaima.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the twice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free — only upon his return home to Israel, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of nearly five years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.