TO PARASHAT HASHAVUA
Rabbi Yaakov Beasley
completed the preparations for traveling to Eretz Yisrael, the Jewish
People finally set out for their homeland.
As the journey begins, however, the first of many unfortunate incidents
in Sefer Bamidbar occurs - the incident of the “mitonenim.”
“and the people grumbled.” In
past shiurim, we have discussed how this brief episode serves as a
turning point for the Jewish People.
This week, we will discuss the two verses that immediately precede the
story of the “mitonenim,” verses that we sing every time we open the
Aron Kodesh to remove the Sefer Torah, and the strange grammatical
markings that surround them.
the ark set out, Moshe said, “Rise up, Hashem! May your enemies be
scattered; may your foes flee before you.” Whenever it came to rest, he said,
“Return, Hashem, to the countless thousands of Israel.” (10:35 -
from their familiar use in the synagogue service, these two verses are unique in
the Torah. They are encased between
two inverted nuns (the letter, not a lady of the cloth turned upside
down!). These are referred to as
“nun mezuneret” (“isolated nun”) or “nun hafucha”
(“inverted nun”). There are nine
inverted nuns in the Masoretic text of the Tanakh; all the others appear
in Tehillim 107. There is
another inverted nun in the Torah attested to by Rashi that does not
appear in our texts.
The appearance of the flipped nun varies from text to text (and possibly
from printer to printer). The three
common variants of the inverted nun are vertically flipped, horizontally
flipped, and Z-shaped. Other
renderings exist, corresponding to alternative interpretations of the term
“inverted,” and they may also appear with a dot above. In earlier printed editions of the
Torah, they are shown as the standard nun upside down or rotated because
the printer did not want to bother to design a character that would be used only
is the meaning of these strange markers (“simaniyot” in rabbinic
literature)? The mishna
brings a halakhic ramification
regarding this section:
book that became erased and there remain in it 85 letters, like the section “And
it was when the Ark was carried,” renders hands impure. (Yadayim
many letters does a damaged book of the Tanakh need to contain in order
to maintain its sanctity (and thereby, counter-intuitively, render hands
impure)? The mishna uses our two verses as the example of the minimum
size of a book. However, this begs
the question. How can our two
verses, comprising less then one percent of the thirty-six chapters of Sefer
Bamidbar, comprise the paradigm of an entire book? This point was already
discussed in the Talmud:
section has small signs around it, indicating that this is not its real
place. Rabbi says: That is not the
reason, but because [these verses] are considered a book of its own. The saying of R. Shmuel Bar Nachmeini:
“She set its pillars seven - this is seven book of the Torah,” follows whom? It
follows Rabbi. Who is the
Tanna who argues against Rabbi? It is R. Shimon Ben Gamliel. R. Shimon Ben Gamliel says: This section
will be uprooted from its place and written in its rightful place in the future
[but for now, it is in its correct location]. Why is it written here? To separate
between the first and second retributions.
The second retribution is the mitonenim – “and the people
grumbled.” The first retribution is “And they traveled from the mountain of God”
[that is, they eagerly ran away from God's presence]. Where is its appropriate place? R. Ashi
says: In the section on encampments.
two Mishnaic sages disagree as to whether or not this section belongs in its
current location presently. R.
Shimon holds that the verses are presently in the correct place, but ultimately
will be moved to an even more appropriate place. R. Yehuda Ha-Nasi (Rabbi) holds that
they are in the correct place. The
inverted nuns do not indicate that the passage is misplaced or will move,
but rather demarcate a separate book of Torah, as we alluded to above. Consequently, there are three books in
Sefer Bamidbar, not one. R.
Menachem Leibtag has described them as the book of preparations, the book of
what should have been, and the book of what actually happened.
at the content of these two verses closely, we sense the triumphant move of a
people on the go, trumpets blaring.
Moshe’s invocation to Hashem to “rise up” when the aron
moved forward and to “return” when it rested gives the impression that Moshe
determined the journeys and resting places of the aron. This contradicts what was previously
stated - that it journeyed only in accordance with Hashem’s command. This point is made in the
Moshe said, ‘Rise up, Hashem:’” And another verse says, “At the commandment of
Hashem they rested and at the commandment of Hashem they journeyed.” How can
these two verses be reconciled? To what may this be compared? To a king who was
going on a journey accompanied by his bosom friend. When he resumes his journey, he says: I
shall not go forward until my friend gives the order. And when he halts, he says: I shall not
halt until my friend comes along.
This reconciles the verses “And Moshe said, ‘Rise up, Hashem’” and “At
the commandment of Hashem they journeyed…”
Leibowitz notes in her studies that this midrash “graphically illustrates
the highest degree of communion and closeness between man and his maker, and the
complete identity of aim.” Her
words echo those of R. Shimshon Rafael Hirsch. In his commentary, he notes that Moshe’
invocation, “Rise up,” occurs immediately, in accordance with the principle
expressed by R. Gamliel in Pirkei Avot:
His will your will:” Who are the “enemies” and “those that hate You” that are
scattered as a result of the divine “rising up”? Here is the answer given by the
Sifrei: Can there be enemies of the One who spoke and the world came into
being? But the verse informs us that whoever hates Israel is as if he hates the
Omnipotent. Similarly, it is said
(Shemot 15), “And in the greatness of Your Excellency, You have
overthrown those that rose up against You.” Can there be rebels against the
Omnipotent? The verse informs us that whoever rises up against Israel, it is as
if he rose up against the Omnipotent.
Similarly, it is stated (Tehillim 74:23), “Forget not the voice of
Your enemies, the tumult of those that rise up against You continually.” Because of whom? Similarly, it is states (Tehillim
83:2), “For lo, Your enemies make a tumult, and those that hate You lift up
their heads.” Because of whom?
“They have taken crafty counsel against Your people.” And it also states (Zekharia 2),
“For he who touches you touches the apple of His eye.” It is not stated “the eye” but “His
eye”- of the Omnipotent.
the enemies of Israel are synonymous with the enemies of God. This is true whether we are worthy or
not of this title. Those bent on
our destruction regard us as the standard bearers of truth and justice and the
representative of the divine Law.
It is for this reason that they persecute and hate us.
on this passage, R. Hirsch notes that the enemies are not just the Canaanites
with whom the Jewish People would meet in battle upon entering the land. The Torah’s demands for justice and
altruism were bound to antagonize aggressors and tyrants, standing in the way of
their designs of rule and dominion.
The call to holiness would not only arouse hatred, but active persecution
of the holy people.
us return to R. Shimon ben Gamliel’s suggestion that the reason for the inverted
nuns was to symbolize that the verses were out of place. Saul Lieberman commented that that the
inverted nuns function like similar signs in early Greek manuscripts.
sources, especially Alexandrian ones, refer to the sign as “reversed sigma.”
were used to indicate a space or to mark passages that are in a wrong
place. In his commentary to Shir
Ha-shirim and at the end of Sefer Bereishit, the Netziv suggests that
this phenomenon is not uncommon in Jewish texts, including the
of Songs” – that was composed out of many separate songs, of which many were
composed through Ruach Ha-Kodesh by others [not Shlomo]. For example, the song, “Tell me…” (1:7)
was said by Moshe, as is explained in the Sifri… Also, the verse, “Kiss
me…” (1:2) was received [as tradition] by our Rabbis to have been written prior
to Shlomo, and they asked, “When was it composed?” Similarly, “We have a little
sister…” (8:8) was said at the days of Avraham, as explained in Bereishit
Rabbah (Lekh Lekha).
Shlomo gathered songs through the Holy Spirit and also added of his own
and fashioned it into one song.
This is also like the book of Psalms that his father produced and which
was called by his name, even though it contains songs that were said by others…
So it says in Pesachim (117a) that David said all the praises in the
Psalms, as it says, “completed songs of David son of Yishai,” because David
edited and added to them.
Similarly, Shlomo gathered verses that he had at hand and added many
others of his own and made of it into one song… There are songs that were
composed with a certain meaning at one time and Shlomo adjusted it through
Ruach Ha-Kodesh for a different time. (Rina Shel Torah
prophecy [in Mikha] is very difficult to understand. It appears that it was pre-existing from
the time of the Judges and at the time of Mikha, it was added to the rest of his
words. It states similarly in
Vayikra Rabba that two verses in Yeshayahu were already known for
the time of Be'eri [father of Ezekiel] but were added to the book of
Yeshayahu. There are many
such instances in the Prophets and Writings. (Ha-Emek Davar to
Ha-Emek She’eala (166:5), the Netziv expands on these comments and cites
many other examples of placements of a few sentences of a prophecy that is of
relevance for later generations but of a prophet who did not merit his own
book. He notes that according to
the midrash, Shema
Yisrael was first pronounced by the twelve tribes through Ruach
Ha-Kodesh, but was only later incorporated by Moshe into the Torah in
Sefer Devarim (Pesachim 56a). The Netziv postulates that this process
of second transcriptions also accounts for the phenomenon of keri and
ketiv (the words in Tanakh that are written in one way but are
read differently). The ketiv
represents the original wording as it was first said through Ruach
Ha-Kodesh, while the keri is the wording as it was transcribed in its
final form the second time around, under Ruach Ha-Kodesh.
readers are invited to continue exploring these fascinating nuns in the
An exchange between the Maharashal and the Noda Be-Yehuda regarding if adding
additional letters disqualifies the Torah scroll (She’ealot U-Teshuvot
Maharshal, no. 73; She’ealot U-Teshuvot Maharam Mi-Lublin, no 75;
She’ealot U-Teshuvot Noda Be-Yehuda, vol. 1, Yoreh Deah no.
R. Menachem Mendel Kasher, Torah Shelma vol. 29, p. 124-130 (where he
provides pictures of the various methods of writing the