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Parshas Behaaloscha (5769)

JEWISH HISTORY AND THE “UPSIDE-DOWN NUNS”

When the Ark would journey, Moses said, “Arise, G-d, and let Your foes be scattered, let those who hate You flee from before You.” And when it rested, he would say, “Return, O G-d, the myriad thousands of Israel.” (Numbers 10:35-36)

These two verses are unlike any other verses in the entire Torah in that they are surrounded by two upside-down nuns (i.e. two inverted Hebrew letter nuns …. not the gals in the convent!)

According to one opinion in the Talmud (Shabbos 116a), these nuns serve to separate these two verses from the rest of the Bible narrative, indicating that these two verses are in reality a separate book in of themselves. According to this view, there are not Five books of Moses, but Seven Books of Moses – (1) Genesis, (2) Exodus, (3) Leviticus, (4) Numbers until Chapter 10 Verse 35, (5) Verses 35-36, (6) the rest of Numbers, and (7) Deuteronomy.

It is difficult to understand what is so unique about these two verses - which seem to carry no special message other than to inform us what Moses would say every time the Ark started moving with the entire nation behind it and what he said every time the Ark rested - that they are worthy of being considered a whole, separate book of the Bible?

Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch, in his commentary on the Torah, explains that Verses 35 and 36 in Chapter 10 of Numbers form a separate book with its own unique message because they represent the totality of our collective Jewish history over the past 3000 years.

The first verse speaks of a time when the Ark, and the entire Jewish camp surrounding it, is journeying from place to place. This represents those periods in our history when we have been exiled from our land and have been hounded, persecuted and tortured by the nations surrounding us. For such a time, Moses prayed that G-d scatter our foes, and make those who hate Him (and us) flee from before Him.

The second verse speaks to generations like ours, when we are, thank G-d, resting from persecution and anti-Semitism. There are no threats of inquisition, pogrom or holocaust. Yet a different threat exists today which, in many ways, is far, far worse. And that is the alarming rate of assimilation and intermarriage that endangers the very existence of our people.

It is one of the ironic twists of our history that during all the hundreds of years when we were persecuted and hated and murdered by the nations around us, we managed, by and large, to emerge with our faith and our heritage intact. But in just about 75 years of rest and tranquility and "freedom of religion" here in North America, we have lost most of our people to assimilation and intermarriage!

That is Moses' second prayer, tailor-made for times like ours - "O, G-d, bring back the myriad thousands of Israel". Help all Jews to see the beauty of their heritage, and bring all of us back to You, where we truly belong.

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