The Inverted Letters
Rabbi Asher Lopatin, an alumnus of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship Program, is the spiritual leader of Congregation Anshe Sholom Bnai Israel in Chicago, a modern Orthodox synagogue which strives to create a non-judgmental, welcoming environment for all Jews. He is married to Rachel Tessler Lopatin, a Wexner Graduate and Wexner Heritage alumna, and they have four children. He can be reached at email@example.com
My wife Rachel and I were all ready for the delivery of our fourth child: a scheduled C-section set for Wednesday afternoon, Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem re-unification day. But a day of promise turned into a day of anguish. That same morning of Jerusalem day, in the same hospital that Rachel was due to give birth, I stood with beloved congregants as they lost their12 hour-old child. Before Rachel arrived at the hospital to deliver, I officiated at a bitter bris of this fallen child; he was given his name, Gavriel, mighty one of God. And then I met up with Rachel at the same hospital to have our new baby.
Two days later, on Friday, I prayed in our hospital room with our nursing, healthy baby boy, and then headed for the cemetery to bury the child who had died. On Sunday morning, I proudly welcomed home our baby boy, and then left to officiate at a stone dedication for Maya, a four year old girl who was run-over a year before in a gruesome hit and run accident. The mother of that four year old is expecting in September. Mazel tov.
The Torah cannot magically provide immediate comfort, much less give any kind of explanation. But in this week’s portion, B’halotecha, it does show us sympathy for the paradoxical reality of life. To the glorious verse: “Vayhi binso’a ha’aron – And when the Ark traveled, Moshe said, arise O God and let your enemies scatter…” the Torah attaches a backwards letter nun before and after. The nun of “nasoa” – traveling – is inverted; all the glory and confidence is taken out of it.
We, too, travel through life, and the Torah understands that our travel, like the Ark’s, may well be surrounded by inverted nuns. Yet, the journey to the Promised Land must continue, the journey through a strange world can never end. May God bless us all with the leadership ability to continue the journey, to recognize the sad, inverted nuns, and at the same time to recognize the great blessings we have been given in life. And may we share only simchas together.