• Leann Shamash

The Book in the Middle

#thebookinbetween #behaalotecha #thebookinthemiddle


Parshat B’Haalotecha is a unique parsha among the parshiyot. It is a parsha of anticipated movement of the Hebrew tribes in the journey started a year before. All seems to go well and the movement of the tribes finally begins when a few strange lines appear in the text. These p'sukim, which we say each time we take out the torah (see below) are bookended by two inverted letter nuns. This strange configuration of letters and this well known text mark the beginning of a long downward spiral for the Hebrews in their journey . In B'Haalotecha we transition from reading about flags and gifts and silver trumpet blasts before the inverted nun bookended text to loud complaints and demands to eat meat, Moshe suffering a breakdown over his relationship with the Hebrews and bitter comments by Moshe’s brother and sister about him. And the story continues.


The rabbis go so far as to suggest the Parshat B’haalotecha can be divided into three sections; what takes place before the inverted nuns, what takes place following the inverted nuns and the two psukim which fall between the bookended nuns. So, the rabbis posit that in reality the Torah might be composed of 7 books and not five.

The two psukim that are surrounded by inverted nuns are sometimes thought to be a book unto itself, perhaps a description of what could have been.


׆ וַיְהִ֛י בִּנְסֹ֥עַ הָאָרֹ֖ן וַיֹּ֣אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֑ה קוּמָ֣ה ׀ יְהֹוָ֗ה וְיָפֻ֙צוּ֙ אֹֽיְבֶ֔יךָ וְיָנֻ֥סוּ מְשַׂנְאֶ֖יךָ מִפָּנֶֽיךָ׃

וּבְנֻחֹ֖ה יֹאמַ֑ר שׁוּבָ֣ה יְהֹוָ֔ה רִֽבְב֖וֹת אַלְפֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ ׆ {פ}

My poem is called THE BOOK IN THE MIDDLE and it imagines those few lines.surrounded by Breisheet, Shemot and Vayikra, followed the remainder of Bamidbar and Devarim.




The Book in the Middle

The book in the middle is the book of

would’ve

could’ve

should’ve


It's a book where we imagine

how things could have been

if,

only if

It’s the book of things we should’ve done

it’s the book where we look back

snap our fingers

bang our heads

and say,

“Why?”

It’s a book of regrets.

The book in the middle sits on the shelf surrounded by heavy books

to its right

to its left.

history, drama, law and family stories surround it.

The book in the middle

is very short

it has few glorious dreamlike words

and leaves many questions. The book in the middle says just that

it is just a pause

it is not the ending

and although middles are not always rosy

middles can be gloomy and dark

hopeless even .

But we know we the story will continue.

It is not the end

and even if things seem hopeless right now

there are more chapters to come.

The Book in the middle is surrounded

by letters turned upside down.

They point

to the right and to the left

and leave us confused .

Perhaps these crooked letters are speaking to us

"Look at me!"

"I am crooked!"

"I am sailing through the air upside down.".

"I am suspended in space."

"I am different."

"I am an unknown,

an enigma."

"Look at me!"


"If I can be a mistake so can you!"

"If I can can seem hopelessly misplaced

then so can you."

"If I can be inverted then so can you."


Yes, we can.


For we know

deep down

in our confused hearts,

however imperfect our lives may be

that the story is not yet finished.

There are pages still be read.

Entire chapters,

volumes even!


We know that we have time

to right ourselves.

Turn ourselves right side up.

Face the world head on

not upside down .


Slowly, slowly

we can right ourselves.

Even if it takes years.

Patience.

It is not the end of the story.

We can keep writing the chapters to come

for after all,

we are just the book in the middle.






When the Ark was to set out, Moses would say: Advance, O יהוה ! May Your enemies be scattered, And may Your foes flee before You! And when it halted, he would say: *Return … thousands! Others “Return, O יהוה, unto the / ten thousands of the families of Israel!” Return, O יהוה, You who are Israel’s myriads of thousands!

Devarim 10:35-36


׆ וַיְהִ֛י בִּנְסֹ֥עַ הָאָרֹ֖ן וַיֹּ֣אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֑ה קוּמָ֣ה ׀ יְהֹוָ֗ה וְיָפֻ֙צוּ֙ אֹֽיְבֶ֔יךָ וְיָנֻ֥סוּ מְשַׂנְאֶ֖יךָ מִפָּנֶֽיךָ׃

וּבְנֻחֹ֖ה יֹאמַ֑ר שׁוּבָ֣ה יְהֹוָ֔ה רִֽבְב֖וֹת אַלְפֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ ׆ {פ}

For more information on the inverted nuns please see: https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/13416/what-is-the-meaning-of-the-inverted-nuns-around-numbers-1035-36

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