Two inverted nuns
Something unique in Torah
What is the meaning?

B’haalot’cha contains one of those intriguing scribal oddities that appear occasionally in Torah. Sometimes it’s a letter written larger or smaller (Shema being the best known example). Sometimes it’s special spacing of words such as we see with the Ten Commandments, the Priestly Benedictions or the Song of the Sea.

This week we find two verses (Numbers 10:35-36) bracketed by what look like inverted letter nuns as shown in the image above, and translated as “When the Ark was to set out, Moses said: Rise up Adonai, and let your enemies be scattered; and let your foes flee before You. And when it rested, he said, Return, Adonai, to the many thousands of Israel.

Scholars disagree about the meaning of the special way in which these verses are written in the scroll.  Two reasons (because there is never just one reason) are given in Talmud (Shabbat 115b-116a):

“It is taught in a baraita: The Holy One, blessed be God, placed signs above and below this portion, to say that this is not in its place. Rabbi [Judah haNasi] said: It was not for this reason, but rather because it is an important book in and of itself.”


TORCHWeb, the website of the Torah Outreach Resource Center of Houston, considers the idea that these verses comprise a separate book, meaning there are actually Seven Books of Moses. They cite Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch’s explanation that these two verses “represent the totality of our collective Jewish history.”

Maggidah Melissa Carpenter, on her TorahSparks blog, explores the meaning of two important words contained in these verses – kumah (rise) and shuva (return) – and how they might suggest ways we re-interpret our past.

This post just touches the surface of the meaning of the inverted letters in this week’s parasha. You may want to take some time to click on the links in this blog post – or enter “Inverted Nun Torah” in your favorite search engine – to begin your own journey of discovery and learning.

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