Inverted Nuns & Choveiv ben Reuel

This week in parshat Behaalotecha we were introduced to a novel concept, that of Chazakah, in which a pattern is established by three uninterrupted occurrences. The narrative describes the Jews “rushing from Sinai like schoolchildren”  before the sin of complaining. Any sin to come would create chazakah, thus the Torah employs a one-of-a-kind tactic. Behold the inverted nun:


The chazakah was averted by adding a break into the narrative leading to the golden calf with inverted nuns filled with nonlinear content.

So who cares? What’s the big deal?

Last time they were mentioned on this blog, the idea was that a person can break chazakah in their behaviors by injecting some sort of positive character trait into their life, like turning the status quo upside down, by adding an “inverted nun” type of action into their habits.

These new diversions, the lifestyle separations between the patterned behaviors of the past, will keep us from habitual behavior and provide a much-needed break from the frustrations of day-to-day life. The crown of goodness that will rest upon these new moments will serve as an “inverted nun” in our lives and make it truly a life worth living.

Kinda esoteric, that one. Wonder that it is, our Torah always changes and I had a chidush again concerning these letters last Shabbat in San Jose (nice place!) while discussing Choveiv ben Reuel, father-in-law of Moshe Rabbeinu.

The obvious question is “who is Choveiv” followed by “who is Reuel?” The text implied Reuel is father-in-law of Moshe Rabbeinu, which would mean Choveiv is his brother-in-law. Huh?

Rashi brings the crucial bit of data, and Ramban concurs. Choveiv is the name given to Yitro when he converted to the G-d of the Jews at Mount Sinai. This makes sense of his puzzling decision to leave that Presence and return to Midian. He was a Ger ha Tzedeck on a mission. He had souls to save back home.

Thus, the chidush. When I converted 23 years ago, it began the long process of integrating who I am with who I will be. Orthodox Judaism is not a path for the timid, or the proud, or the lovers of comfort; Things that I most certainly am. Thus, I have my feet in two worlds that seem radically diametric. And yet, there it is.

Like the inverted nuns that can break chazakah, they also provide a placeholder within which can be created a unique and meaningful life modeled after the text found between the inverted nuns in this weeks parsha:

“Let those who hate you flee. Reside tranquilly.”

Sometimes, the simple pshat is actually simple, and a huge bracha for us all.

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