Books of Moses

(Torah Portion Bha’aloscha) Books of Moses

If you were to ask anyone, “How many Books are there in the Torah?” The overwhelming response would be, “Five Books of Moses.” This is in fact the correct answer.

However, the Talmud actually divides the Torah into seven segments. The source for this is in this week’s portion where there are two verses that are surrounded by two inverted Hebrew letter Nun’s.

The placement of these peculiar Nuns indicates that the verses that are enveloped within are considered an independent book of the Torah. Since they are placed within the Book of Numbers, it means Numbers is essentially three Books; 1) from the beginning until the first Nun, 2) within the Nun’s, 3) from the second Nun till the end of the Book of Numbers. Thus we come up with seven Books of the Torah.

The obvious question is what difference does this make? The Talmud explains that the verses within the Nun’s, do not belong there chronologically. However, since at this point in time the Torah relates three incidents where the Jews sinned, the Torah wished to interrupt with something unrelated so that three instances would not be written in succession.

Commentators further explain that the two verses enveloped by the Nuns deal with the special statements that Moshe made when the Jews were ready to travel and when they encamped during their travels toward the Land of Israel. These seven books infused the Jews with the ability to conquer the land of Israel, which was inhabited by seven hateful nations.

Why did the Almighty choose the letter Nun to divide the portions? Some commentators explain that the shape of the letter Nun is similar to brackets and serve to separate the portions. Also, the letter Nun hints that the Jewish leader who would conquer the Land of Israel was Yehoshua the son of Nun!

On a deeper level: King David composed Ashrai – Psalm145, beginning each verse with a letter of the Aleph Bais. In fact, the Talmud states that whoever recites this Psalm three times a day (during the daily prayers) is worthy of meriting a portion in the World to Come!

However, Kind David left out the verse beginning with the Hebrew letter Nun. The Talmud asks why? The answer offered is because King David knew prophetically that there would be a verse in the Book of Amos beginning with a letter Nun expressing the downfall of Israel. King David didn’t feel it was appropriate to include a verse beginning with the letter Nun in this uplifting prayer. However, in the following verse he does include a word with the letter Nun, mentioning that G-d supports those who have fallen (Noflim).

Perhaps, the Nun in our portion is inverted to represent a positive, protective and enthusiastic connotation, as opposed to the regular letter Nun.

When I’m in Jerusalem visiting the Western Wall – Kotel, I try to make it my business to go into one of the alcoves of the covered area of the wall area and read from a unique Book of Psalms on display. Since it is hand written on parchment with the letters written in Torah font without vowels, I find it challenging yet stimulating to read from it, as I try to recall the proper vowels and pronunciation of the words. I find it fascinating how certain verses and paragraphs are written and formatted on the scroll. In fact there is a paragraph in Psalm 107 that contains seven inverted letter Nuns. The Talmud gives a reason for this particular arrangement.

Our Oral Tradition, when discussing the permissibility of saving a holy scroll from fire on Shabbat, states that if the scroll has at least 85 letters, it is considered a complete scroll and may be saved in certain instances. The basis for this law is that the portion contained between the inverted Nuns has 85 letters and is recognized as a complete book of the Torah.

Commentators point out that the number 85 in Hebrew equals Peh, which means a mouth. They explain that a human is uniquely endowed with the ability to speak and communicate, and draw parallel between the 85 – Peh/mouth and the 85 letters that comprise a holy scroll.

Just as a scroll attains sanctity by having 85 letters, so too, a person infuses holiness within himself by being watchful as to how he expresses and communicates concerning others.

Wishing you a restful, peaceful
and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks