The Wonder of the Aleph Bet – SHIN

Shabbat Shalom! –   שבת שלום!

We light the Shabbat lights and gather in Shefa – the resplendent radiance of the Shechina – the presence and peace of the Holy One among us.

THE SHAPE AND MEANING OF THE SHIN

Shin is the second to last letter of the Alef-Bet The letter is composed of three vods which have a common base that unites them. Each vav has a yud on top. The shape is compared to flames of fire, which also echo in the phonetic sound, shhhh. It is compared to the Eternal flame that always keeps burning. A flame, or fire, needs air to keep burning. Aiir is avir – אוירin Hebrew. The Shin thus combines with the Aleph (God – אלוהים – Elohim) to form the word esh – אש- fire. In general, the flame symbolizes love, particularly the eternal love of God, as we see in the verse: “As mighty as death is love… the flame of God” (Song of Songs 8:6). 

Shin begins the beautiful and powerful words Shabbat and Shalom – Peace. Its ‘fire’ is reflected in the Shabbat candles. However, the letter also carries a meaning of ‘shattering,’ related to the  meaning of Shin in ‘shen’ – tooth. Teeth break up whole morsels of food, causing a type of chaos and mixture in the mouth before the food can be digested and the nutrients and goodness extracted from it. This ‘shattering’ is the beginning of absorption and subsequent growth and health in the body. Another meaning related to the Shin is shinui – change. Often, growth and the creation of something new requires a breaking down, or shattering, of the old.

 The powerful and holy letter Shin begins the prayer  Shemah Yisrael – שמעישראלHear O Israel! We need to hear the voice of God, which usually is very personal and internal – a still, small voice discerned in the spirit. However, when directed to people at large it can be a loud, even roaring sound. 

In redemptive history, the Shofar – שופר – is a signal of the voice of God. It’s call is like that of the ancient shepherd who used a particular shofar to call his flock home. A great Shofar was sounded at Sinai, and in our times a Shofar call has been, and is, going out to call home to Israel all those who have been dispersed in exile to the four corners of the earth. It is the restoration of all the scattered pieces to where they belong and this brings true Shalom – completion and wholeness.

Included in the Shemah are the words: “And you shall write them [the words given by God] on the mezuzah – doorposts of your doors and your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).

On the doorpost of every Jewish home is a Shin – found on the case of the mezuzah. This is an acronym for the name of God – El Shaddai – שדי-  Shomer Dlatot YIsrael. One who watches over the doorposts of Israel, as the guardian and protector.

TEFILLIN – SHIN CONNECTING WITH TAV

Also found in the Shemah are the words, “And you shall bind them [these words that I give you today] for a sign upon your hand and for tefillin – a reminder, between your eyes.”

In the wonderful prophetic chapter 33 of Jeremiah we are told: The LORD appeared to him [Israel] long ago, saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love”(verse 3). There are four parchments contained in the boxes of tefillin. One of these is the Shemah, which contains the commandment to love God. “And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.” This describes three kinds of love that are mirrored in the tefillin. 

With all your heart and might are reflected in the tefillin that are bound on the left arm, which represents man’s strength and power. The box is placed near the heart, the seat of life. The arm and hand tefillin are thus a dedication of all one’s power and works to God in love. 

We learnt with the letter Reish – rosh –  head, that the head is the control center that gives instruction and direction to the rest of the body. The head tefillin is bound next to the brain, which is the seat of man’s mind and intellect which responds to the soul. These demonstrate a dedication of one’s mind to God and His mitzvoth/commandments. The word mitzvah means to bind. Every mitzvah is a means to draw us closer to God and to strengthen the bond of love between us. The mitzvah of Tefillin is regarded as forging a closer spiritual bond with Him through physical symbols which are reminders of this love. 

The letter Shin is placed on the right and left sides of the head tefillin. On the right side is a regular three=headed Shin, and on the left side it must have four heads. In the picture above you can see the three-headed Shin. Below is an illustration of the Shin on the opposite side. This gives a total of seven ‘heads’, reflecting the seven middot, or characteristics of a person that are influenced by the mind. 

The left side represents God’s judgment, while the right side represents His love. It is encouraging that He extends an extra measure of love to His children. Another association is made that the three-headed Shin reflects the three patriarchs and chochma – wisdom, while the four=headed Shin represents the four matriarchs and the feminine quality of binah – understanding. The latter is seen as the Shin of the World to Come when judgment and love will be united in perfect harmony; and when, after the Final Redemption, there will be full revelation and the knowledge of God will fill the earth.

THE NUMBER OF SHIN – 300

Shin  is the penultimate letter of the 22 letters of the AlephBet and it is also referred to as the middle of the three significant end letters. Its numerical value is 300. When the name of God – Elohim is is written in full: Aleph – Lamed – Hei – Yod – Mem, the total is 300. 

The number 300 is found in various places in the Bible. In the days of the Judges the Jewish people engaged in idolatrous worship for three hundred years. The last God-fearing Judge was Samson. After the Philistines had deceived him he took 300 foxes , turned them tail to tail, tied a torch to each pair, and let them loose to burn the fields of the Philistines. The fox – שועל – shual. symbolizes the wisdom and cunning needed in this world as the ‘good inclinaiton’ that outsmarts the wolf – זאב- ze’ev, which can represent the ‘evil inclination’ of the animal soul.

Gideon, one of the great and righteous Judges of Israel, was inspired by God to test the many men who had gathered at the spring of Harod to battle against the invading Midianites. After the test he was left with three hundred men, and god gave them a miraculous victory. It is considered that the test served to indicate those who had not bowed down to the false god Ba’al, and they served as a rectification of the three hundred years of Israel’s idolatry. 

Interestingly, the second verse of Torah says, “And the earth was tohu and vohu [chaos and void] and the spirit of God – ruach Elohim – hovered over the face of the waters.” The words numerically total 300. This spirit is regarded by the Sages of Israel as the spirit of Messiah, under whose reign over God’s Kingdom, the chaos and emptiness of the world will become whole and filled with holiness.

More beautiful Shin words:

Se’udah– סעודה – A festive meal. Every Shabbat and celebration is marked by a se’udah. 

It dates back to when Israel celebrated their freedom from the slavery in Egypt, which is specially marked each year with the Seder at Pesach.

Shavua tov! -שבוע טוב! – Have a good week, The greeting one gives after Shabbat ends.

Shana Tovah! – The greeting one gives at Rosh Hashanah – the start of he new Hebrew calendar year in the ninth month of Tishrei. It is connected to the agricultural cycle in the Land of Israel, while Nissan is the start of the Biblical calendar year.

She’hecianu! –  שהכיאנו! – A blessing for a happy event, such as seeing a friend after a long time, buying a new car, or eating the first fruit of a season. Especially, also said when lighting festival candles. “Blessed are You, O Lord our God, Who has kept us alive, preserved us, and brought us to this season.”

Sheket! – שקט!- Quiet! One of the modern Hebrew words for ‘Quiet!” or ‘Silence!” One that is probably first embedded in children’s minds during schooldays.  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You might also enjoy