A story is told in the Talmud: Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi meets Elijah the Prophet and asks, “When will Mashiach come?”
Elijah responds, “Why are you asking me? You can ask Mashiach himself.”
“Really?! Where can I find Mashiach?”
Elijah tells him, “Go to the gates of Rome and there you’ll find him.”
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi thinks for a moment. “Fine, but there are many people at the gates of Rome. How will I know which one is Mashiach?”
“He will be sitting amongst the poor people who are enduring pain and suffering.”
So Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi presses, “There are many people suffering and in pain. How will I know who Mashiach is?”
Elijah concludes, “All the other sufferers will be unwrapping their bandages in one continuous motion. Mashiach, however, will remove and reapply one bandage at a time, strip by strip.”
What does he mean, “strip by strip”? The people who are suffering from disease and injury tie and untie their bandages at the same time. But Mashiach wraps one finger, one joint, one wound at a time. This is because when Mashiach is finally called, he won’t even wait for the blink of an eye. He won’t have to take the time to finish reapplying a lengthy bandage. He’ll be able to save his people immediately.
So Rabbi Yehoshua proceeds to the gates of Rome and finds Mashiach there. He says, “Nu! When are you going to come?”
Mashiach answers, “Today.”
“Today?! That’s great!” And he runs back home, packs his bags, and tells the entire town, “Mashiach is coming today!” And so they wait. The people are waiting and waiting but the sun finally sets and Mashiach never shows up. A few days pass. Again Yehoshua ben Levi meets up with Elijah. Elijah says, “Nu, you met Mashiach? What do you think of him?”
Reb Yehoshua responds, “He lied to me!”
“What are you talking about?” says Elijah.
“Well, I asked him, ‘When are you coming?’ He said he’s coming today, but he never showed up.”
Elijah interjects, “I’m sorry. I don’t think you heard him correctly. He [was quoting the verse]: ‘“Today, if you will hearken to My voice,”’ [and then continued with:] ‘If you will return to G‑d and follow the laws of the Torah, I will come. Until then I’m waiting.’”
The fourteenth letter of the alef-beis is the nun.
There are two types of nuns. The “bent” nun (nun kefufah)either begins or is in the middle of a word. The straight, or final nun (nun peshutah), is employed only at a word’s end. The Talmud tells us that the nun kefufah represents one who is bent over and the nun peshutah is one who is straight.
The Maharal explains that the two nuns represent the two fundamental approaches to serving G‑d: fear and love. The first person serves G‑d out of awe, fear. Therefore, he is hunched over. The second person serves G‑d out of love and thus stands straight. This person is also characterized by generosity, because love represents openness.
Another interpretation is found in the work of the Shelah, where it states that the bent nun alludes to one who has fallen and the straight nun to one who has straightened back up.
Rashi comments that if a person is “bent over” throughout his life, that means he is humble. He is subservient to law and order, to Torah and to G‑d. In the World to Come he will stand tall and straight, for G‑d will bless him with tremendous reward.
It is interesting to note that in a halachic debate, the final verdict in Jewish law isn’t necessarily bestowed upon the one who is the more intelligent. Rather it is decided based on the opinion of the person who is the more humble. What does the Torah tell us about Moses? Not that he was a brilliant scholar, but that he was the epitome of humility.
The same is true of Joshua, Moses’ successor. As some sources compare Moses to a fish, a nun, because he was taken out of the water by Pharaoh’s daughter, so is Joshua called “ben Nun,” the son (disciple) of this great fish (Moses). Torah does not inform us about his intellect, but rather that he was Moses’ disciple—that he was always at Moses’ side and in Moses’ tent. Why did he merit inheriting the leadership of the Jewish people from Moses? Because he embraced the quality of humility with his entire being.
Even before King David became king he was known as “the final verdict.” King Saul, his predecessor, was brilliant, but the halachah was determined according to David. We know that David was very humble; he is called “the servant of the L-rd” and “My servant David.” Additionally, Hillel, the famous Tannaic rabbi and scholar, faced off time and time again against his colleague Shammai in determining Jewish law. Shammai was actually intellectually sharper than Hillel, but the halachah was decided according to Hillel because of his humility and kindness.
It states in the HaYom Yom: “The unique quality of Mashiach is that he will be humble. Though he will be the ultimate in greatness—for he will teach Torah to the Patriarchs and to Moses—so, too, he will be the ultimate in humility and self-nullification, for he will also teach simple folk.”
Whether one serves G‑d out of love or fear, or whether one is bent or straight, the spark of Mashiach found within all of us will empower us with the humility to embrace the diversity of creation.
The gematria of nun is fifty. There are fifty “gates” or levels of Binah, understanding. That’s why the Jews counted forty-nine days—seven complete weeks from Passover to Shavuos—to ready themselves to receive the Torah. The famous question is, why does the Torah tell us to count fifty days after Passover, when immediately afterwards it says to count seven complete weeks, which are only forty-nine days? The answer is that an individual can only attain forty-nine levels of intellect on his own. The fiftieth level, that of transcendence, can only be provided by G‑d. Therefore G‑d says: You do yours and I will do Mine. If you achieve the forty-ninth level, I will bless you with the fiftieth; the highest tier of Binah, understanding.
On the Jewish calendar, every fiftieth year is called the year of Yovel, or Jubilee. In the Jubilee year, all lands in the Land of Israel are “given their freedom,” and returned to their original owners.
How is the concept of freedom and the Torah connected? In Ethics of Our Fathers it states: “One who learns Torah is truly free,” but for the skeptic to challenge this statement would be all too easy. “Free?! What do you mean free? The Torah is full of restrictions! It tells me not to do this and not to do that. Some freedom!”
Yet indeed, when one learns Torah, he is free of the false, materialistic constraints of society. Free from his self-centered, animalistic inclinations. He has the power to confront and transcend these obstacles. Furthermore, Torah gives an individual the ability to maximize his potential, to be the best he can be.
As an example, when you are eating good, nutritious food, your performance is optimally enhanced. Sure, you can survive on brownies and Coca-Cola. But the fact of the matter is, when you eat healthful foods, you’re able to produce better.
The same holds true regarding living according to the laws of Torah.Perhaps you believe you don’t need the Torah in your life, that you can survive very well without it. After all, you have all the material amenities to live relatively stress-free, and your social life is in full swing. But when you do decide to live a Torah lifestyle, you soon realize that you’re able to operate at a much higher plane of existence than the average individual. You feel that you are in control of your life and are not enslaved to the dictates of the false values of society.
The Zohar tells us that the nun stands for ona’ah—deceit. To the human eye, this world seems to be controlled by the laws of nature, for one cannot see G‑d. This false reality therefore is a total deception.
The mission for all of us is to reveal and draw G‑d’s infinite light down into this world, so that we can see the true reality of the world—that everything is G‑dliness and G‑dliness is everything. This is done by cleaving to G‑d and observing His commandments. This concept is expressed in the straight, long (final) nun, which has a design similar to the vav, a chute. In contrast to the vav, however, its leg extends beneath the baseline. This implies the downward flow of Divine energy reaching into even the deepest abyss. This will ultimately happen with Mashiach’s arrival.
Nun also means “kingship.” There is a verse in Tehillim regarding Mashiach that states: “May his name (Yinon) endure forever, as long as the sun.” According to Rashi, Yinon refers to kingship. If we break the word “Yinon” into two—yud and nun—nun means kingship, and putting a yud before a word denotes continuity. Therefore, the name Yinon implies that the kingship of Mashiach will endure forever.
In Aramaic, nun means a fish. Another meaning of nun is a bar nafli, one who has fallen, or a miscarriage. In the Torah portion entitled Balak, the prophet Bilaam prophesizes the coming of two kings. The first one is King David. The second is King Mashiach, who will rise from David’s descendants in the final days.
The Midrash states that David was originally supposed to have died through a miscarriage. He was able to survive only because Adam (the first man) bequeathed David seventy of his own years. Mashiach, a descendant of David, is called a bar nafli, literally translated as the “son of one who has fallen,” or a miscarriage. A miscarriage causes great pain and suffering to the mother and to those close to her. The role of pain and suffering is an important element of Mashiach’s presence on earth. Because he feels the suffering of the Jewish people, he will pray fervently on their behalf to bring redemption and healing.
King David is known as David ben Yishai—the son of Yishai. It is interesting to note that the gematria of בן ישי, “ben Yishai,” is 372, the same value as the words בר נפלי, bar nafli.
The Talmud tells us there was a debate over the name of Mashiach. One group said the name of Mashiach is Menachem. The other group said it’s Shiloh. The third group said Mashiach’s name is Yinon. The fourth group said Chanina. In essence, they were all correct. Mashiach (spelled mem, shin, yud, ches) is an acronym of all four names. The mem of Mashiach represents Menachem, which means consolation, for Mashiach will come and console the Jewish people and soothe their pain and anguish from the exile and the destruction of the First and Second Holy Temples. Then he will be Shiloh (shin), which means he will become king and reign over the people, restoring law and order. Shiloh, which also means “gifts to him,” refers to one’s obligation to bring presents to the king. Then he will be Yinon (yud), which means fish that multiply rapidly and endure. Under Mashiach’s reign, the world will be fruitful and multiply. The last name is Chanina (ches). Chanina means chein, grace. Mashiach will ultimately bring grace, peace, and harmony to the world.
Furthermore, the Talmud tells us that a person who dreams “and sees Chanina” is destined to witness “many, many” miracles, because there are two nuns in the word Chanina. The word nun also means nes, miracle. Two nuns denote nisei nissim: many, many miracles. In the era of Mashiach, everyone will witness great wonders and miracles.
In conclusion, nun, which represents humility, is the vessel for all of G‑d’s blessings. Intellectually, when one is humble, one acquires the fiftieth (and crowning)level of understanding; on a material level, one attains abundant material wealth through his ability to “multiply like a fish.” Through our efforts to achieve humility, we will be blessed both materially and spiritually with the coming of Mashiach.