R. Eleazar b Abina says: Whoever recites [the psalm] Praise of David three times daily, is sure to inherit the world to come. What is the reason? Shall I say it is because it has an alphabetical arrangement? Then let him recite, Happy are they that are upright in the way, which has an eightfold alphabetical arrangement. Again, is it because it contains [the verse], Thou openest Thy hand [and satisfies every living thing with favor? Then let him recite the great Hallel, where it is written: Who giveth food to all flesh! – Rather, [the reason is] because it contains both. R. Johanan says: Why is there no nun in Ashre? Because of the fall of Israel’s enemies begins with it. For it is written: Fallen is the virgin of Israel, she shall no more rise. (In the West this verse is thus interpreted: She is fallen, but she shall no more fall. Rise, O virgin of Israel). R. Nahum b. Isaac says: Even so, David refers to it by inspiration and promises them an uplifting. For it is written: The Lord upholdeth all that fall.
The acrostic form of Ashre lacks the Hebrew letter nun. The teaching of Rabbi Johanan is that the nun was dropped out of the acrostic because it stands for the fall (Hebrew: nophel) of Israel. Interestingly, this is the same word that is the root of Achitophel we discussed in a previous post: (Hebrew: My brother will fall.) (See The Heart of The Father, Notes on Talmud Blog Post Feb 2011)
‘Ahitofel’, this was the counselor. And so it is said: Now the counsel of Ahitofel, which he counseled in those days, was as if a man inquired of the word of God.
As we mentioned in a previous post,
There are also two Achitophels. Achitophel and Mephiboseth. There is Achitophel the advisor. Who is supposedly wise. But notice the passage says, Now the counsel of Achitofel, which he counseled in those days, was as if a man inquired of the word of God. The passage doesn’t say that Achitophel was correct in his counsel. It simply says: “as if a man inquired of the work of God. Achitophel has the ability to inspire awe in his counselees; however, this doesn’t vouch for the helpfulness of his counsel. The word Achitophel could be interpreted from Hebrew as Achi (my brother) tophel (will fall). He prods others into action because he lacks faith. The highest level of consciousness Achitophel has reached is a development of the mind. He is the one that is so brilliant, he can embarrass David in the Hallacha. However, the mind cannot provide faith or a clear connection with HaShem. G-d and G-d’s will are beyond the grasp of mind. The mind can only hold what is finite, it cannot hold the infinite. The mind can only provide a shadow or a metaphor of reality. If the mind is relied upon to be the sole judge of reality, my brother will fall. (Notes on Talmud Blog Feb 2011)
In a similar vein, Hirsch, in The Nineteen Letters of Ben Uziel, provides us with an enlightening exposition about a related word nophelim:
…the necessity of providing for the satisfying of physical cravings, which demand an increasingly large portion of the good things of the world, exalts again the animal in man; he sees himself only an animal, and deems his mind only a means of procuring the gratification of physical desires; the human in man sinks (niphilim). That which could lift him up, the acknowledgement of God as the only Ruler and Father, and, therefore, of everything else as creature and servant, and consequently of himself, as well as servant and child, this acknowledgment has grown dim. For as soon as man ceases to look upon himself as the empowered guardian and administrator of the earth-world, as soon as he endeavors to carry out, not the will of God, but his own will, and ceases to be servant of God; he sees no longer in the strength-endowed beings around him the servitors of Deity, but independent forces which seek possession, lust, and power, he has no eye any more for the law of the All-One whom they all serve, and the world divides itself for him into as many gods as he sees forces in operation…. He, therefore, desiring only possession and lust, becomes a slave of the beings from which he hopes to obtain that which he desires… until finally, recognizing the omnipotence of his passions, he deifies them; and furthermore… he soon ceases to look upon the pursuit of power and lust as bestial and unworthy of man, but deems it divine, man’s most worthy goal.
(N.D.) Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch. The Nineteen Letters of Ben Uziel, BN Publishing, NY. pp 50-52.
From this perspective, Ashrei does not need a nun because when the individual lives in the light house and experiences the Unity, there is no fall. However, as we mentioned in our first posting on Ashrei, the Ashrei is compared to Psalm 119, another psalm with an acrostic structure that guides our steps when we occupy the dark house and do not experience the Unity. Psalm 119 does possess the letter nun. Here is the passage for the letter nun in Psalm 119.
A lamp [Hebrew: ner] for my feet is Your word and a light for my path. I have sworn and I will fulfill to keep Your ordinances that are righteous. Afflicted am I exceedingly; O HaShem, preserve me in accordance with Your word. The offerings of my mouth accept with favor, please O HaShem; and Your ordinances teach me. My life [soul] is in my hand constantly, but Your Torah I did not forget. The wicked laid for me a snare but from Your precepts I did not stray. I have taken as my heritage Your testimonies, forever, for the joy of my heart they are. I have inclined my heart to perform Your statutes, forever, to the end.
Again, as we have discussed, unlike the Ashrei which outlines all the ways we can have a direct relationship with HaShem, Psalm 119 talks about how the study and practice of Torah leads to our protection and growth while we are not directly experiencing the presence of God in our lives. Here, the verses of Psalm 119 discuss how to manage being faithful to HaShem in order to reenter the light house when we experience ourselves as “fallen”.