Parashat Beha’alotecha: Numbers 8:1 to 12:16

For Shabbat, June 9, 2023

Our Torah portion contains instructions for installing the menorah in the sanctuary, and for the consecration of the priests and the Levites. At the end of this complex portion, we encounter a profound story about the relationship of Moses and his siblings, Miriam and Aaron. They are accused of slandering their brother, and Miriam suffers from a severe skin disease, until God forgives her.

We also an unusual typographical insertion in the Torah text. In Numbers, chapter 10, we read: “And it came to pass, when the ark traveled forward, that Moses said, ‘rise up, o’ God, and scatter your enemies, and let them that hate You flee before You. When the ark rested he said, ‘return, God, unto the ten thousands of the families of Israel.”  Tradition demands that these two verses be bracketed, as it were by two inverted “nuns,” the fourteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The Talmud tells us these two verses are so important that they constitute a “book by itself.”

Remember that the ‘nuns’ that surround our verses are inverted. If we turn to Nachmanides’ explanation of the rainbow which God placed in the sky as an expression of the covenant with Noah, (after the flood) we find that the rainbow is an inverted bow, as in an ‘arrow and bow.’  It is a way of saying that God wanted peace to reign down from the heavens after the flood. It is the  way of warriors to invert the instruments of war which they hold in their hands, if they want peace. So these inverted ‘nuns,’ the letter ‘N’ in English, is perhaps a symbol of acceptance, of comfort, of peace. Many other explanations have been offered over the centuries for these special letters.

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