Beit Midrash

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Nothing for Naught - Including Nun


Rabbi Yossef Carmel

When the tribes of Gad and Reuven accepted Moshe’s conditions for their acquisition of the East Bank of the Jordan, they said "we will go forth before the other troops..." (Bamidbar 32:32). There is an innocuous looking linguistic peculiarity in the word for "we." Instead of the usual word אנחנו, it is spelled נחנו, without the letter א. As far as we can find, Chazal did not speak about it. The Ibn Ezra did not think that this is a troublesome matter, as the basic word is נחנו and the א is just a common addition. Rabbeinu Bachyei has a simple yet interesting explanation. Since the Tribe of Gad had great warriors, who were capable of great feats on the battlefield, as they themselves hinted, they wanted to speak with humility and thus referred to themselves with the humbler word נחנו (as we find in Shemot 16:8). (He has a second explanation that is more mystical, having to do with p’sukim that contain Names of Hashem).
Students of Rashi posit that everything that happens is hinted somewhere in the Torah (see Avot 5:22). This is one example where the Torah, by leaving out a letter, hinted at a story that would occur several hundreds of years later.
Na’aman was a powerful and successful general of the nation of Aram. In one of his army’s conquests, he brought his wife a captured Jewish girl to serve as household help. Na’aman became afflicted with the horrible ailment of tzara’at, which Chazal consider tantamount to death, and all of his fame and fortune could not help him. He asked the Jewish girl if there was some sort of Jewish remedy for the situation, and she suggested that he to go ask the Jewish prophet, who was then Elisha. Elisha told him to wash himself in the Jordan River seven times, after which he would be cured. Na’aman, after his initial anger at what seemed to him to be a nonsensical idea, was indeed cured, causing him to accept Hashem as the true G-d.
Where did Elisha get his idea? While there is no problem in saying that Hashem told him directly to give this instruction, there actually is a hint in the Torah, which, Rashi’s students say, guided Elisha to the idea. They point out that Na’aman’s name begins and ends with a נ, as do three p’sukim in the Torah, including two where the נ is in its position only due to a grammatical exception. The first of these three speaks about tzara’at (Vayikra 13:9). The second is our pasuk, which ends with the word ירדן (Jordan River). The third is the pasuk that says that one is to listen to the prophet (Devarim 18:18). The hint Elisha found is that if a person with a נ at the beginning and end of his name comes to the prophet regarding tzara’at, the solution is the Jordan River.
Let us end off with a cautionary note. Although these types of hints are part of the wonderful mysteries of the Torah, it is unwise for non-prophets to try to guess the future based on them.
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