The following is an adaptation of concepts from Rav Yitzchak Izak Chever, The Chalban in his Sefer Talilei Chayim, and the Sefer Mima’amakim. Please feel free to print this out and read it over Shabbos Kodesh just please not during Tefilos!
This week’s Parsha is famously broken into three parts. If we are to open any Chumash or Sefer Torah we will notice that the two Psukim of VaYihi BiNsoa HaAron and U’V’Nucho Yomar are literally bracketed off to be a section unto itself by upside-down Nuns (This letter: נ), breaking up the Parsha into three. The whole concept really begs an explanation.
While the goal of this essay is not to discuss why the Nun-brackets are upside-down, we do want to delve deeper as to why HaKadosh Baruch Hu chose to break off this section with the letter Nun specifically. For this we need to understand two things: first, what is the significance of these two Psukim? Second, what is the letter Nun all about? If we can properly understand these two factors separately then hopefully the connection between them will emerge by itself.
As the Torah tells us, the Aron HaKodesh’s movements dictated where and when the Jewish people would travel around the desert. When it started to move, so did the camp. When it’s travels ceased, the nation rested as well. These two Psukim detail what Moshe Rabbeinu would say when the Aron started and stopped its journeys.
The Psukim read as follows: Va’Yihi BiNsoa HaAron Va’Yomer Moshe, “Kuma Hashem V’Yafutzu Oivecha V’Yanusu M’Sanecha MiPanecha”. U’V’Nucho Yomar, ‘Shuva Hashem Rivivos Alfei Yisrael.” – ‘When the Ark would journey Moshe would say, ‘Arise Hashem! Let your foes be scattered and let those who hate You flee from before You’. And when the Ark rested he would say, ‘Reside Hashem among the myriad thousands of the Jews.’”
In short, when the Aron began to move, Moshe would ask of Hashem to destroy his enemies - evil and those who promote it. When it rested Moshe’s request would be that of relationship – God’s presence dwelling amongst the Jewish people. The question is so obvious that it almost asks itself: what is the connection between the Ark’s travels and Moshe’s prayers? For this we need to clarify the nature of traveling in general.
We move from Point A to Point B because there is something that we need to do or seek to gain at our destination. If there would be nothing to do at the target location, then per force it would cease to be a destination and there would be no point in leaving Point A in the first place.
The Aron’s travels were no different. It’s brought down in many sources that the whole point of the journeys around the desert was to tame and subdue evil and impure forces in order to extract from those places the hidden holy sparks that those places contained. The Torah-presence that the Aron wielded had the proper energy of Tikun (spiritual rectification) to extract and save that holiness. When it’s job was finished in Point A, it would pick up and move to Point B to go and bring positive spiritual vibes to that new place as well.
These travels of the Aron are a microcosmic manifestation of history on the whole.
The universe, from the time of its very inception, has been wrought with flaws. The most potent goodness that God created, the Or - the Light from the very beginning was stored away – creating the possibility for negativity to fill that gap. The waters split and it created Machlokes - disagreement and friction between the creations. The moon rebelled against God. The Trees rebelled against God. Man rebelled against God. A simple look through Parshas Bereishis shows us a universe off to a bad start.
Why did Hashem choose to do it this way? Rav Shmuel Tal brings from the Ramchal that the was to build the concept and need for Tikun into the very fabric of reality. He made an unsound world to give us a playing-field on which to work. By placing us in an imperfect universe, He gives us the opportunity to fix it, to become active participants in making it right.
How it this accomplished? By revealing God’s presence in the world. Hashem, as we know, is the ultimate Good and the revelation of His glory elevates everything around it. But if God’s Intrinsic Self – a concept too profound for a human to fathom – would enter our sphere of existence, the sheer power of His being would blow us all away and return everything to naught. So what are we to do? If we need Godly force to change the world for the better, but it’s simply too much – how can we bring Tikun?
In response to this problem He gave us the Torah. The Torah HaKedosha, as the Ba’al HaTanya, Leshem and many others explain, is God’s presence in the way that this world can handle. Through the Torah, HaKadosh Baruch Hu channels His Will into concepts that man can deal with. His desires become actions within our reach to accomplish. His hopes for the universe are transformed into stories that we can relate to and lessons that we can really live by. By giving us the Torah Hashem gives us the power that we need to slowly but surely bring about the Tikun that the universe to desperately craves.
The Point A of history is imperfection; a universe full of problems and impurities and forces that seek bog down holiness – God’s enemies so to speak. The Point B of history is Tikun a world where God’s presence dwells with His creations in peace and without obstacles. The vehicle that will get us from Point A to B is the Torah.
Our two Psukim deal with this specifically. The Aron HaKodesh’s travels to bring Tikun to remote desert corners is a small glimpse into history as a whole. The Aron and the Torah which it contains going from place to place to eradicate impurity, and bring sanctity and godliness in its place. “When the Ark would journey Moshe would say, ‘Arise Hashem! Let your foes be scattered and let those who hate you flee from before You’.” And then, when the proper Tikun is brought about God and the Jews can dwell peacefully in that space - “And when the Ark rested he would say, ‘Reside Hashem among the myriad thousands of the Jews.’”
So why bracket this lesson off with the letter Nun specifically?
Chazalexplain that every letter in the Alef-Beis can be broken down into component parts, which the is style in which scribes write. For example a Hei is really a Daled and a Yud. An Alef is two Yud’s and a Vav. The list goes on.
What is a Nun? A Nun is a Yud affixed on top of a flipped-over Vav. Yud, as Rashi tells us in Bereishis is a reference to God’s Kavana, His intent – His will for things to play out a certain way. Yud as a prefix makes a word future tense – directing any verb towards the flow that God willed for the universe - Tikun. Vav, which as a prefix always means ‘and’ is a reference to Chibur, connection. This and this. The ‘and’ between them connects them. The sources that bring down that on the grand scale the goal of Vav is to make the greatest connection of all – the connection of heaven and earth. Thus if Nun is a convergence, an affixation of a Yud above a Vav directed downward then the Nun is a manifestation of the channeling of God’s intention from lofty place above and its arrival down in our world. The Nun takes God’s abstract Will – the Yud, concepts too grand for us to handle, and through the Vav takes it down to a level that this world can appreciate. The Nun then, in very obvious fashion, represents everything that the Torah as that a vehicle of Tikun is all about.
Thus it is specifically the letter Nun and all that it represents that is chosen to frame the Psukim that detail the microcosm of Torah HaKedosha’s role throughout history.
The practical lesson is clear. If I want to be an active participant in the perfection of the world, there is one - and only one – way to pull that feat off. All my good intentions, all of my positive feelings can be a really helpful force in this world – under on condition. I can make the most of myself – I can make my personal power infinite by connecting it to the infinite source. When I’m hooked up to Hashem’s Ratzon I get the opportunity to become something bigger than myself. I get the chance to feed off an energy that I otherwise couldn’t attain. Being connected to the Divine Master-Plan is my ticket to greatness, it’s the boost that I need to be a part of the one force that the history as a whole is propelled by - Tikun.
HaKadosh Baruch Hu should give us the inspiration that we need to tap into this profound mindstate. He should give us the energy to constantly remember that a life unified with His will is a life of substance, and a life that is bringing the world to a better place. If we can live by this, there is no doubt that we will live lives of Simcha and Shleimus, moving closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu and ultimately the Geulah Sheleimah!