“Rabbi Yoḥanan says: Why is there no נ (nun) in the אַשְׁרֵי (Ashrei) prayer [composed mostly of Psalms 145, which is arranged alphabetically, except that the verse beginning with the letter נ (nun) is missing]? Because the fall of Israel’s enemies [euphemistic for Israel Herself] begins with it. For it is written: נָפְלָה לֹא תוֹסִיף קוּם בְּתוּלַת יִשְׂרָאֵל נִטְּשָׁה עַל אַדְמָתָהּ אֵין מְקִימָהּ (Nafelah lo tosif qum Betulat Yisra’el), Fallen, not to rise again, is Virgin Israel (Amos 5:2). In the West [i.e., the land of Israel] this verse is interpreted: נָפְלָה וְלֹא תוֹסִיף לִנְפּוֹל עוֹד—קוּם בְּתוּלַת יִשְׂרָאֵל (Nafelah [ve-]lo tosif [linpol od]. Qum, Betulat Yisra’el), She is fallen [—but] She will not [fall] again. Rise, O Virgin Israel!” (BT Berakhot 4b).
“Rabbi Aḥa was walking on the road, accompanied by Rabbi Yehudah. While they were going, Rabbi Yehudah said, ‘As for what we have learned: Virgin Israel, who is blessed by seven and is called בַּת שֶׁבַע (Bat Sheva), Bathsheba, Daughter of Seven, as we have established in many places, and a virgin inherits seven blessings [under the wedding canopy, see Zohar 2:102b, 169a–b, 255b (Heikh); 3:44b, 124a, 266b; ZḤ 88d–89a (MhN, Rut)]—look at what is written: And you, O son of man, raise a lament for Virgin Israel, which is surely uttered for Her, for Assembly of Israel! And this is most difficult of all: Fallen, not to rise again, is Virgin Israel (Amos 5:2). Now, that which the Companions have said concerning this statement is fine [see BT Berakhot 4b]. [However, this radical rereading is not convincing because] if the passage had been spoken by way of consolation, we would agree; yet here lamentation and dirge are uttered, as demonstrated by the verse! [cf. Rabbi Naḥman of Bratslav, Liqqutei Moharan 1:247].’
He replied, ‘Certainly so! This matter troubled me greatly, and I came before Rabbi Shim’on with a darkened face. He said to me, ‘From the look on your face, your heart is revealed!’ I said to him, ‘Surely, for my heart and my face are equivalent [cf. M Terumot 3:8].’ He said to me, ‘Utter your word!’
I said, ‘It is written: Fallen, not to rise again, is Virgin Israel. One who is angry with his wife, and she leaves him—she will never return. If so, woe to the children who have been cast out with her!’ He said to me, Are you not satisfied with what all the Companions have said? I said, They render the words compassionate, but it does not correspond. He said, Whatever the Companions say is fine and fitting, but woe to the generation when shepherds are nowhere to be found and the flock wanders, not knowing whether to go to the right or to the left! Surely this verse needs to be known, and all is revealed to those who see!
Come and see: In all the exiles suffered by Israel, He set a time and termination; and in all of them, Israel turned back to the blessed Holy One and Virgin Israel returned to Her place at the time decreed. Yet now, in this last exile, it is not so, for She has not returned as on the other occasions—as demonstrated by this verse, for it is written Fallen, not to rise again, is Virgin Israel. It is not written Fallen, and I will not raise Virgin Israel.
This may be compared to a king who became angry with the matrona and cast her out of his palace for a certain time. When that time arrived, the matrona immediately returned and came before the king. And so it happened once, twice, and thrice. Finally, she went far away from the king’s palace and was cast out for a distant time. He said, ‘This time is not like the other times, that she should come before me; rather, I myself will go with my retinue to woo her.’
When he reached her and saw her lying on the ground—who has seen the glory of the matrona at that time and the king pleading to her? Eventually, he grasped her in his hands and raised her and brought her to his palace, swearing to her that he would never part from her or be distant.
Similarly, with the blessed Holy One. All those times when Assembly of Israel was in exile, when the time arrived She returned and came before the King. Yet now, in this exile, it is not so; rather, the blessed Holy One will grasp Her hand and raise Her and reconcile with Her and return Her to His palace.
Come and see that it is so, for it is written Fallen, not to rise again, as in other times; but I myself will raise Her—I, YHWH, will raise Her booth; I will raise the fallen booth of David (Amos 9:11), Virgin Israel. The fallen—as is written: Fallen, [not to rise again]. This is the glory of Virgin Israel and Her praise. This I learned at that time.
Rabbi Yehudah said, ‘You have surely spoken to my heart, and now it is tranquil. This is lucidity of the word, and it accords with a word that I recently gained. Rabbi Yose said, The blessed Holy One will one day proclaim over Assembly of Israel, Shake off the dust, arise; sit enthroned, O Jerusalem! (Isaiah 52:2)—like someone grasping his friend’s hand and saying, Shake yourself free and rise! So will the blessed Holy One grasp Her and say, Shake yourself free, arise!‘
Rabbi Aḥa said to him, ‘Happy are all those members of the royal palace, who open with this expression, as is written: Arise, shine, for your light has come! (Isaiah 60:1)—see, the King is surely here! Then is the glory and joy of all, when the King reconciles with Her.
It is written: Bathsheba came to the king in his chamber (1 Kings 1:15). Similarly, all those times She came to the King and stood before Him, as is written: She came before the king and stood before the king (ibid., 28). But this time, not so; rather, the King comes to Her to reconcile with Her, as is written: See, your king is coming to you! (Zechariah 9:9)—precisely, not You to Him. Is coming to you—to mollify You. Is coming to you—to raise You. Is coming to you—to restore You completely. Is coming to you—to bring You into His palace and unite with You eternally, as is said: I will betroth you to Myself with faithfulness; I will betroth you forever (Hosea 2:22, 21)’” (Zohar 3:6a–b).
׆ וַיְהִי בִּנְסֹעַ הָאָרֹן וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה קוּמָה יְהוָה וְיָפֻצוּ אֹיְבֶיךָ וְיָנֻסוּ מְשַׂנְאֶיךָ מִפָּנֶיךָ וּבְנֻחֹה יֹאמַר שׁוּבָה יְהוָה רִבְבוֹת אַלְפֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל ׆
And it happened, as the Ark journeyed on, that Moses would say,
‘Rise O YHWH, and Your enemies scatter, and Your foes flee before You!’
and when it came to rest, he would say,
‘Come back O YHWH to Israel’s teeming myriads.’
“Our Rabbis taught: And it happened, as the Ark journeyed on, that Moses would say… (Numbers 10:35–36): for this section the blessed Holy One provided [inverted letter nuns as] signs above and below, to teach that this is not its place. Rabbi [Yehudah ha-Nasi] said: It is not for that, but because it ranks as a separate Book [perhaps a quotation from the mysterious Book of the Battles of YHWH mentioned elsewhere].
With whom does the following saying of Rabbi Shemu’el son of Naḥman in Rabbi Yonatan’s name agree: Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn her pillars, seven (Proverbs 9:1): this refers to the seven Books of the Law? With whom? With Rabbi. Who is the Tanna that disagrees with Rabbi? It is Rabban Shim’on son of Gamaliel. For it was taught, Rabban Shim’on son of Gamaliel said: This section is destined to be removed from here and written in its [right] place [following the description of the journeying of the Tent of Meeting in Numbers 2:17]. And why is it written here? In order to provide a break between the first [account of] punishment and the second [account of] punishment. What is the second [account of] punishment? And the people became complainers of evil [in the ears of YHWH…] (Numbers 11:1). The first [account of] punishment? וַיִּסְעוּ מֵהַר (Va-yise’u me-har), and they journeyed on from the mountain, of YHWH (ibid. 10:33), which Rabbi Ḥama son of Rabbi Ḥanina expounded [as meaning] שֶׁסָּרוּ מֵאַחֲרֵי (she-saru me-aḥarei), they strayed from following, YHWH. And where is its [rightful] place? Rav Ashi said: In [the chapter on] the banners [but in the future, when all evil and its consequent retribution has ceased, this section will be inserted in its right place]” (BT Shabbat 115b–116a).
“As the ark journeyed… (Numbers 10:35). Rabbi El’azar said, ‘Here one should examine: נ (Nun) that is inverted, facing backward—why in two places here? If you say, ‘A bent נ (nun)’—well, it is known that a bent nun is female; and a straight one, totality of male and female. They have already established, regarding this place: ‘As the ark journeyed.’ But why is it turned afterward like this: ׆?
Come and see: No נוּן (nun) is mentioned in אַשְׁרֵי (Ashrei), Happy are, those who dwell in Your house (Psalms 84:5), because She is in exile. This has been established by the Companions, for it is written: נָפְלָה (Nafelah), Fallen, not to rise again, is Virgin Israel (Amos 5:2). But what is written previously? The Ark of YHWH’s Covenant journeyed before them a three days’ distance to scout out a resting place for them (Numbers 10:33). As soon as the ark journeyed, nun journeyed above it—surely, Shekhinah rests upon the ark.
Come and see: The love of the blessed Holy One is toward Israel; for even though they stray from the straight path, the blessed Holy One does not wish to abandon them, and He constantly turns his face toward them. Otherwise, they could not endure in the world.
Go and see: The ark journeyed before them a distance of three days, and nun remained inseparable from it, accompanying it. Due to the love of Israel, it turned its face toward them, turning away from the ark—like a gazelle who, when going, turns its face back to the place it has left. So, as the ark journeyed, nun turned its face toward Israel and its shoulders toward the ark. Therefore, when it journeyed, Moses said, ‘Arise, O YHWH! (Numbers 10:35)—do not abandon us, turn Your face toward us!’ Then nun turned back toward them, like this: ׆—like someone turning his face toward his beloved. And when the ark and Israel began to rest, nun turned its face from Israel and turned back toward the ark, turning completely.
Rabbi Shim’on said, ‘El’azar, my son, certainly so! But here, it did not turn its face away from Israel. For if so, the nun would have to be the opposite of the other one, above: that one inverted, and this one straight, facing the ark. But surely, it did not turn its face away from them. What did it do? As the ark rested, Moses said, Return, O YHWH (Numbers 10:36). Then the ark rested, and Shekhinah stood on the other side, with Her face toward Israel and toward the ark. So then She encompassed both the ark and Israel. But afterward Israel ruined this, as is written: The people were complaining (Numbers 11:1) [the incriminating word כְּמִתְאֹנְנִים (ke-mit’onenim), complaining, contains two consecutive nuns, shaped normally. Whereas the inverted nuns (preceding and following the biblical couplet)] allude to Shekhinah turning toward Israel, the forward orientation of the nuns in כְּמִתְאֹנְנִים (ke-mit’onenim) indicate that as a result of Israel’s complaints Shekhinah, as it were, stared off into the distance, away from them (Matt)]’” (Zohar 3:155a–b).