BHBW – THE ALEPH-BET KISLEV 5784 / 2023
SAMECH – סמך
A day’s light fluxes in tides: pale and gleaming at dawn, the glare of noon, the gold of evening, the promise of twilight — every second of every day has its own magic.
Anthony Doerr – The Shell Collector
THE SHAPE AND MEANING OF THE SAMECH
Samech depicts the endless cycle. Negatively, a circle can be a cycle that goes nowhere. Psychologically, a circle can be compared to a rut – the mindless cycle of habitual living that produces no growth or creativity. Things become stale and the momentum of living is lost.
Interestingly, such as in the Creation account, the letter Samech doesn’t appear in several places in the Torah that express newness or creativity.
Positively, the Samech represents the Cycle of life. Nature is cyclical, in movement and design. The planets are round and revolve in circles. Life-giving water occurs in a cycle. Our bodies survive through blood circulation and the digestive cycle.
In living, to avoid the danger of becoming stuck in a rut, the ideal is to transform the cycle into a spiral and, as we have been aspiring to in Being Holy Being Whole, to strive to keep spiraling upward! To not only go through the motions of living but to grow through them.
The mind-numbing slavery experienced by the Israelites in Egypt can be compared to a spiritual death. They needed to be delivered from that state, to be birthed into newness of life. After their miraculous deliverance through the parting of the waters of the Reed Sea and the drowning of Pharaoh’s army, the first redemptive command G-d gave them was to declare the new month. This would establish the Festival Cycle of the new Hebrew calendar. The Hebrew word for month is chodesh, which shares the same root as chadash, meaning ‘new.’ The calendar would be lunar, as each month would be set according to the appearance of the new moon. The solar calendar is based on the earth’s annual rotation around the sun. Whereas the moon is constantly changing, with its waxing and waning, the sun is static; it doesn’t move or change. The Hebrew word for year is shanah, which shares the same root as yashan, old, and yashein, sleep! Of course, there is nothing wrong with being old and we definitely need good sleep. The problem would occur if one spent a lifetime spiritually sleeping.
The Festival Cycle is set in place for twelve months of growth – an upward spiral, rather than an endless repetitive cycle. Each year is not simply a round of re-experiencing the same events or holidays. The two-dimensional circle must be transformed into a three-dimensional spiral in order to reach greater spiritual heights – to create and discover newness within the ritual of the calendar’s circular pattern.
KEY SAMECH WORDS
The essence of Samech is found in many words that it begins; such as Sukkot – סכת, and of course a central element of Sukkot, the sukkah – סכה.
After the spiritual ‘highs’ of the High Holy Days – Rosh HaShana, the Ten Days of Awe, and Yom Kippur, we come down to earth, as it were. We build a sukkah, wave the lulav, and enjoy the week of Sukkot. We become grounded in the physical realm again. The focus also is on the harvest and G-d’s provision of rain – the source of life-giving water.
Sukkot shows us that the aim is not to diminish the physical aspects of life but to use the physical to reflect spiritual reality. We don’t separate the “chodesh” (kadosh – holy) from the “shanah” (chol – mundane), we fuse the two together. We don’t try to escape from the physical cycles of life, we embrace and uplift them.
The mitzvot – deeds that connect us to our Father in Heaven, are primarily physical. For example, at Pesach we eat matzah and bitter herbs, at Rosh HaShana we blow the shofar, at Sukkot we build a sukkah and shake the lulav – all physical actions. We use the physical to connect to the transcendent. We find the deeper meanings in the seemingly mundane.
SINAI – סיני
The Samech depicts a space completely surrounded within itself – forming a shelter, like a sukkah.
After wandering for some time the redeemed Israelites reached Mount Sinai, which became a space completely surrounded and enveloped by the revelation and presence of G-d – a place of shelter, unity, renewal – a transcendence from the physical realm to the spiritual. Within the circle of a loving shelter we find seder – סדר, order and calm, and ha’kol be’seder – all is good and alright.
Lawrence Kushner adds: We also find His prayers in the Siddur – סידור – prayer book, His meals, such as the Passover Seder – סדר פסח, and especially His book of the Torah – ספר תורה – Sefer Torah, where, when you dig deeper you discover another layer of meaning in the Hebrew letters – the inner secrets of Sod – סוד, which give great delight and understanding to the mind and the soul.
THE NUMBER OF SAMECH
The positional value of the Samech is 15, the letter Yod is10 and Hei is 5. The yod is found in the word for man – איש – ish, and the hei in the word for woman – אשה – isha. The Samech can be seen as the shape of a wedding ring, depicting the union and bonding in the love between a man and a woman who are soulmates – two halves forming one whole.
The numerical value of the Samech is 60. In Jewish literature there are interesting comparisons made with the fraction one sixtieth – 1/60. It is said that fire is 1/60th of hell; honey is 1/60th of manna; dreams are 1/60th of prophecy; Shabbat is 1/60th of Olam HaBa – the World to Come, and sleep is 1/60th of death.
Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh lists further associations with the number 60:
There are 60 letters in Birkat HaKohanim – the Priestly Blessing and sixty bones in the two hands of the kohen raised for the blessing. King Solomon had 60 guards and there are 60 queens mentioned n the Song of Songs, of which it says “One is my dove.”
More beautiful Samech words
Sof – סוף – end
Kohelet/Ecclesiastes tells us that the end of the matter of life is to “…fear, or stand in awe of, G-d and to keep His commandments.” To know that He is in control of all things, and to trust that He is faithful and true, lifts us from the “vanities” of the world.
Savlanut – סבלנות – patience
Patience is a virtue and Savlanut is one of the first words one learns in Israel!
Slicha – סליחה – Excuse me
Another good to know word in Israel. Say “Slicha!” if someone is blocking your way and you need to get through, or if you accidentally bump or block somebody else! The meaning depends on the tone you use.
Sefirat Ha’Omer – ספירתהעומר – Counting of the Omer
Counting of the forty-nine days leading up from Passover to Shavuot – seen as the journey from Redemption to Revelation.
Se’udah – סאודה – A festive meal
Every Shabbat and festive occasion such as a Brit Mila,, Bar or Bat Mitzvah, or a Wedding, is marked by a special festive meal. The Seder meal at Pesach is a se’udah that celebrates our liberation from Egypt. Even the fast day of Yom Kippur has two se’udahs – one before and one after.