A Poignant Inversion

Looking into this week’s parashah, Behaalosecha, one finds, just before the sixth aliyah, an inverted letter nun. Two pesukim later yet another such nun is found.

The source for this is a Gemara (Shabbos 115b–116a) which is quoted by Rashi. “The Torah made signs for this passage, before and after, to let us know that this is not its place. Then why was it written here? In order to interrupt between one passage that tells of troubles and another.”

The two enclosed pesukim relate that when the Aron would journey from station to station in the Midbar, Moshe Rabbeinu would say, “Arise, Hashem; and may Your enemies be scattered, and those who hate You flee before You.”

Rashi comments on the words “Arise, Hashem”: “Because the Aron would go before them [a distance of] a three-day journey, Moshe Rabbeinu would say ‘Halt, and wait for us, and do not distance Yourself yet further.”

What is the connection between the halting of the Aron and the scattering of the enemies of Hashem?

Writing in the Warsaw ghetto during the horrors of the Holocaust, the Piaseczna Rebbe, Hy”d, teaches us in Aish Kodesh:

On Yom Tov, as the Kohanim prepare to recite Birkas Kohanim, the congregation says “v’sei’ar eiv lefanecha… — may our pleadings be pleasing to You.” We beseech Hashem that He return the Shechinah to Tzion, and conclude “There we will serve You with fear as in the days of old and in the earlier years…”

Why davka in a rebuilt Yerushalayim will we serve Hashem with fear?

The Piaseczna Rebbe explains that while fearing Hashem is certainly possible in exile, to “serve” Hashem properly with fear is impossible as long as we are beset with so much trouble and sorrow.

We are limited by the constant pain and persecution we endure; our hearts and spirits are shattered. Only in a rebuilt Yerushalayim will we truly be able to serve Hashem properly with fear.

When a Jew — despite his troubles and travails, pain and suffering — serves Hashem to the best of his abilities, his sole desire is that Hashem should remove his misery so that his avodas Hashem may be more complete. This desire helps transform the Heavenly attribute of anger into one of compassion, and brings salvation closer.

Virtually every blessing a Yid recites begins with us speaking directly to Hashem — “Blessed are You Hashem,” but then changes into the more distant and indirect, “Who sanctified us with His mitzvos.”

The malachim, however, speak to Hashem only in the more hidden and indirect way, as we quote them in Kedushah: “And one [malach] will call another and say… ‘Blessed is the glory of Hashem from His place.’”

The Rebbe explains esoterically that the difference between the malachim and ourselves is that a Yid is connected to two worlds, the revealed (nigleh) world and the hidden (nistar) one. Therefore, only a Yid can transform the Attribute of Mercy towards those who persecute us into the Attribute of Judgment against these evildoers. Only a Yid can transform an attribute of strict judgment against us into an attribute of mercy and compassion. This is a feat that even an angel cannot accomplish.

When Moshe Rabbeinu went to Shamayim to receive the Torah, he was confronted by malachim who demanded to know what a human being was doing among them. In the end, Moshe Rabbeinu won them over, and they even gave him gifts.

Moshe Rabbeinu proved to the malachim the greatness of Klal Yisrael by the very fact that he was able to change their attitude towards him; it was proof that Klal Yisrael — through their avodas Hashem — is able to change the Attribute of Judgment into the Attribute of Mercy.

The Piaseczna Rebbe wondered why the sign of separation is the letter nun, and why it has to be inverted. He explains:

The Gemara (Shabbos 104a) refers to the letter nun as “a faithful one who is bent.” It symbolizes the utopian avodas Hashem which is possible during times of salvation and well-being. Inverted, the letter nun represents the times of trouble and persecution, a time when the Aron — containing the luchos and the Torah — is distanced from Klal Yisrael.

Moshe Rabbeinu was mispallel, “Arise, Hashem and may Your enemies be scattered and those who hate You flee from before You.” For only when the enemies, both physical and spiritual, will be scattered will the Aron and the Torah no longer be distant; will the letter nun no longer be inverted. For then Klal Yisrael will be able to serve Hashem with shleimus and simchah.