Sunday, May 24, 2009

Megillat Ruth: Enlarged Letter Nun - מגילת רות: נ' רבתי


Some time back my good friend Simon Montagu wrote to me about the connection between the enlarged letter Nun in Parshat Ki Tisa (Sh'mot/Exodus 34:7) נצר and the enlarged Nun in Ruth 3:13 לִינִי הַלַּיְלָה:
"Hhesed is of course one of the main themes of Ruth," he commented, "and so is the origins of the Mashiahh, so I'm sure the connection is there."

I answered that, among many other things, the letter Nun symbolizes downfall with simultaneous salvation, fruitfulness, and faithfulness leading to Moshiach, all of which apply to Ruth.

This voort, this d'var Torah, is inspired by and dedicated to Simon, with much gratitude.

So here goes:
In the Book of/Megilat Ruth chapter three we find an intimate scenario between our protagonist/heroine Ruth, the Moabite convert to Judaism widowed by her Israelite husband, and the only man who can provide her with a secure future, her dead husband's relative, Bo'az.

According to Jastrow, her Moabite name was Ruth (רות), because "she looked at (approved of) the words of her mother-in-law" (Naomi). This name has the same root letters - Reysh-Tav - as a Talmudic word for "pity, relief, mercy, to treat favourably", ratui (רתוי).

Bo'az's root name (בֹּעַז), on the other hand, can mean עַז ('az): strong, mighty or intense; or עֹז ('oz): courage, daring, might or strength. When we think of people's names in TaNaKh as their roles, their purpose for living, then we clearly see here that Ruth needs help from a reliable source to lift her out of her quandry. Both she and Bo'az understand this. They complete each other by giving the opportunity to fulfil their life's purpose through the other.

As we read chapter three and see Ruth's dead husband's mother advising her to enhance her physical charms, then secretly join Bo'az alone, we prepare for a seduction. It's not clear whether this indeed happened at this point - opinions disagree as to whether their physical relationship was consummated now or after their wedding - but Ruth did leave quite an impression on Bo'az, as we read in verse thirteen:

לִינִי הַלַּיְלָה, וְהָיָה בַבֹּקֶר אִם-יִגְאָלֵךְ טוֹב יִגְאָל, וְאִם-לֹא יַחְפֹּץ לְגָאֳלֵךְ וּגְאַלְתִּיךְ אָנֹכִי, חַי-יְהוָה; שִׁכְבִי, עַד-הַבֹּקֶר.

Linger tonight, and tomorrow morning if he will redeem you, good. Let him redeem you; but if he's unwilling to redeem you, then I will, as the L@RD lives. Lie down until the morning.'

Notice the enlarged letter Nun in the word "linger", ליני, lini. I ask myself three questons: Why an enlarged letter, why the letter Nun in particular, and why in the word "linger"?

Why an Enlarged Letter?
Rabbi Chaim David Halevy (1924/5-1998), Kabbalist and former Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, writes in his Quntres Torah Min Hashamayim (Booklet of Heavenly Torah) that each time a letter is written enlarged in TaNaKh, this shows us G@d extending Divine benevolence, doing an extra deed of loving-kindness, of chesed (חסד) for us.

Why the letter Nun?
The gematria/numerological value of the letter Nun is fifty. According to Rav Yitzchak Ginsburgh, the number 50 and the letter Nun represent the Shekhinah (G@d's Divine Feminine Presence), who is the originatrix of each soul of Israel.

We count fifty days of the Omer between Pesach and Shavu'ot, which is when we read Megilat Ruth. We read it on this day because it documents the יִחוּס yichus, pedigree, of David Ha-melekh, who was born and niftar on Shavu'ot (Shulchan Arukh with Mishnah Berurah 490:9; Shaarei Teshuvah 494:3). The souls of Israel are kings and the children of kings. The heir to this throne is Moshiach, beginning with King David (a Moshiach, just not the Moshiach), the great-grandchild of Ruth and Bo'az, and ending with our final redemption still to come, she-yibane Beit Ha-Miqdash bimheyra be-yameynu.

Nun also symbolizes the receiving vessel of this soul of Moshiach, and the ne'eman נאמן or Faithful One. Nun is the fourteenth letter of the Alefbet, which equals "David" - דוד – as the letter Dalet (ד) is worth four and Vav (ו) worth six, so 8+6=14.

Nun, last but not least, stands for neshamah נשמה, the third of five levels to the soul. This level of soul directly perceives the Shekhinah.

Why the word "Linger"?
The final clue hides, rather obviously, in what Bo'az says:

"Linger tonight", or "Linger this night", as הלילה ha-lailah means. Bo'az may have been inviting Ruth to remain close to him that night, but he was also inviting another force to linger with them. Rabbi Chaninah writes in the Babylonian Talmud tractate Niddah 16b that “The name of the angel in charge of conception is Lailah”.

The story of Lailah can be found in Midrash Tanhuma-Yelamedeynu, Pekudei 3, first published in (Istanbul, not) Constantinople in 1522.

Lailah, one of the only female angels, serves the sacred task of bringing the seeds and the soul together and then plants it in the womb. She is the souls' midwife. It is she who illuminates the womb so that the infant can see from one end of time/space/Creation to the other, and it is she who teaches unborn Jewish children the entire Torah, and the history of our souls.

When it's our time to be born, Lailah cuts the illumination and brings us forth into the world. The instant we emerge, she lightly presses her index finger to our upper lips, saying “Shhh,” and this makes us forget everything we learned in utero, so we make our first cry. Notice that the knowledge is still present, just forgotten, like the Jungian idea of Collective Unconscious. This is our explanation also for our philtrum, the vertical indentation between our nose and lips.


This enlarged Nun is the neshamah, the soul, of Moshiach patiently waiting to be conceived by the couple destined to bring it into the world. The soul of Adam Qadmon, which will animate Ruth and Bo'az's great-grandson David, and will transmigrate to our future Messiah.
Bo'az and Ruth have opened their hearts to each other through the chesed חסד, loving-kindness they've paid one another throught to narrative, and as they turn their destinies to enter the Divine Flow which is the will of G@d, they are inviting the angel Lailah to guide the soul of Moshiach present with them on that threshing-floor down through their union.

לילאה טוב
Lailah tov

Jastrow's Dictionary of the Targumim, Talmud Babli, Yerushalmi, and Midrashic Literature
Talmud Bavli Masekhet Niddah 16b and 30b
Midrash Tanhuma-Yelamedeynu Pequdey 3
Legends of the Jews by Louis Ginzberg
Anaf Yosef on Talmud Bavli Masekhet Niddah 30b

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Copyright A. Barclay

Friday, May 22, 2009

Parshat Ba-midbar: Dotted Letters in the Desert


"Three times was G-d exiled: in the Name, in the bursting open of the Name, and in the effacing of this bursting open."

- Edmond Jabès (Cairo, 1912 – Paris, 1991) Jewish writer and poet

In Sifri there are ten instances where a word or group of words appears where one or all of the letters are dotted in the text. In this week's Torah portion, Ba-Midbar, we find a curious series of dots over the name of Aharon, the High Priest. Ba-midbar/Numbers 3:39 reads:

כָּל-פְּקוּדֵי הַלְוִיִּם אֲשֶׁר פָּקַד מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן, עַל-פִּי יְהוָה--לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם: כָּל-זָכָר מִבֶּן-חֹדֶשׁ וָמַעְלָה, שְׁנַיִם וְעֶשְׂרִים אָלֶף.

All who were numbered of the Levites, whom Moshe and Aharon counted at the utterance of the LORD, by their families, all males from a month old and upward, were twenty two thousand.

Ve-Aharon (ואהרן) has five dots, one over each letter. Talmud Bavli Masekhet Sof'rim states that "ten in the Torah are marked by dots", then lists them. The Netziv on Sifri teaches us that if every letter of a word is dotted (as in this case), then this word abandons its usual meaning. We are invited to look deeper into the text, to engage in discussion, thereby entering into relationship and taking ownership of Torah.

So what do we do here, with Aharon? The name of the כהן גדול Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, is not as it seems.

Rabbi Marc-Alain Ouaknin, in his masterpiece The Burnt Book: Reading the Torah, writes:

"Altogether the total count of Levites, whom Moses and Aaron numbered." The name Aaron is completey dotted. The Midrash explains that Aaron was not included in the counting of those numbered (he counted but was not himself counted). Because of the dotting, Aaron is excluded, effaced.

And why was Aharon not included in that census even though he was a Levite? Rashi writes that Aharon's name is dotted because although he was a Levi, he wasn't included in the Levite census. Why was he not counted?

Rashi goes on: "The tribe of Levi was counted separately from the other tribes of Israel, because it is fit for the legions of a King to be counted separately."
Therefore, Aharon wasn't counted with his own tribe of Levi - but Moshe *was*! Aharon, not only as Kohen Gadol, but also as a person, was so unique, so special that he couldn't be counted or even included in a general census. Aharon was beyond all definition.

And why is the letter Vav (ו) of ve-Aharon dotted? Why "and Aharon" and not just "Aharon"? Why FIVE dots and not four?

According to the Zohar, Aaron was an expert therapist who helped save many relationships. The five dots over "ve- Aharon", alludes to the five levels of חסד chesed (loving-kindness) which he held and shared. Aaron's special role is mentioned in Pirkei Avot: "Hillel said, 'Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace, pursuing peace, loving all of G@d's creations, and bringing them near to the Torah.'"

Aharon brought oneness to our kehilah with peacemaking and kiruv, outreach. His mission is also hinted at in his name: Alef, Hey, Reysh, stand for אהבה רבה, ahavah rabah, or "great love". His name's final letter, Nun Sofit (ן), shows his ability to "draw down" this great love from Shomayim into our kehilah below. Just as the body of the final Nun descends below the line, so Aaron could descend to those of us who had fallen, lift us up and bring us closer to the ahavah rabah of G@d.

The English word "dot" comes from the Greek word for the letter "iota", which in turn comes from the letter Yud. Yud's gematrial value is ten. Five dots multiplied by ten 5 x 10 = 50. The number fifty represents of Shavu'ot, the fiftieth day after Passover, after our long count of the Omer. So Aharon, as the embodiment of loving-kindness, represents the attitude we must adopt to receive Torah on the fiftieth day.

As we draw to a close of our counting of the Omer and prepare to approach our own personal Sinaitic revelations, may we be blessed with Aharon's capacity of deveykut, to truly open with love and kindness to cleave to G@d in the full and joyful way we are each meant to.

Midrash Rabbah
Masekhet Sofrim
Nehama Leibowitz's Studies in Bamidbar
Sifrei on Bamidbar
Rabbi Marc-Alain Ouaknin's The Burnt Book: Reading the Torah
Pirkei Avot

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Copyright A. Barclay