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Shin — The Matriarchs

Shin — The Matriarchs

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Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber Schneersohn, the fifth Rebbe of Lubavitch, wrote a letter to his followers in 1901 that pro­nounced the 19th of Kislev as the “New Year of Chassidus.”1 When the letter reached the Rebbe’s chassidim in the town of Brisk, the 19th of Kislev had already passed. The chassidim wanted to make a special celebration in honor of the Rosh Hashanah of Chassidus and planned to do so on Purim Katan (the 14th of Adar I). When word reached the Rav of Brisk, Reb Chaim Brisker,2 that they were celebrating the 19th of Kislev on Purim Katan, he declared, “We don’t mix one joy­ous day with another. Each holiday requires a day of its own.”

When a copy of that same letter reached the chassidim in Vilna, it somehow found its way to the court of Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky.3 Upon seeing it, one of the Rav’s fellow judges on the Rabbinical Court scoffed, “The Mishnah says there are only four Rosh Hashanahs and they are making a fifth!” Rabbi Chaim Ozer replied, “You diminish in holidays. They add in holidays!”4 Rabbi Chaim Ozer’s remark implied that the judge was not doing enough to give honor to the holy days that already existed. The Lubavitchers, meanwhile, were willing to do even more than what was prescribed.

Both stories illustrate that the 19th of Kislev was accepted not only by chassidim but by leading non-Chassidic circles as well.

Design

The twenty-first letter of the alef-beis is the shin.

The shin comprises three vertical lines representing three columns. The letter itself looks like a crown.

The three lines of the shin may be interpreted as three gen­eral dimensions of a human being: Kesser (will and pleasure), the intellect, and the emotions.5 In addition, the entire shin can represent just one of these dimensions, with each of the three lines symbolizing a subdivision of that dimension. In the case of Kesser, Kesser is that which exists beyond the intellect—the dimension of the suprarational; the will and pleasure of the King. The gematria of Kesser is 620. When the shin is repre­sented as Kesser, 620 rays of light are imparted to the world through the three literal lines—or channels—of the shin. These rays are bestowed on the world through the right line, which is kindness; the left line, which is justice; and the center­line, mercy.

When the shin is representative of the intellectual dimension, the three lines stand for the three intellectual faculties of the Sefiros: the right line being Chochmah, the flash of an idea; the left line being Binah, understanding; and the centerline Daas, application of knowledge.

Finally, there is the dimension of the emotions, or middos. Here the shin’s right line represents Chessed, kindness; the left line represents Gevurah, severity or discipline; and the center­line represents Tiferes, mercy or compassion.

Furthermore, the three lines of the shin can signify the three pillars upon which the world stands:6 the study of Torah, prayer and good deeds.

Yet another dimensionof the shin’s columns is reflected by the three Patriarchs. Abraham is represented by the right line, Chessed (loving-kindness), as he personified absolute kindness, an outward focus through connection to others, and the per­formance of good deeds. Isaac is represented by the left line, Gevurah (discipline and severity), indicative of his being intro­spective and demanding of himself; concentrating on self-refinement and intense prayer. Jacob is the centerline. This is Tiferes, or harmony, because he took the qualities of Abraham and Isaac, kindness and severity, and synthesized them into mercy. Jacob also represents Torah study, because the Torah blends the positive and negative commandments into a harmo­nious whole.

The letter shin actually has four different forms. There’s a shin with a dot above the right column,a shin with a dot above the left column, a shin with four columns instead of three, and finally a silent shin. When the dot is on the right, the shin emphasizes Chessed, the concept of kindness. When the dot is on the left, the shin (pronounced “sin”) emphasizes the aspect of judgment or severity. These two forms are illustrated by the words shaar and sei’ar. The shin of the word shaar (gate) has its point on the right, שׁער,as a gate allows people to pass in and out, an aspect of openness or chessed. This shin is full of energy, potential and benevolence.

If we switch the shin’s dot to the left side, which is Gevurah (i.e., contraction), the resulting word is sei’ar, שׂער,or hair. Hair has the properties of life, but a life-force that is tremendously diminished or weak. One can pull out or cut a strand of hair and not feel any pain, unlike when one cuts a finger or other part of the body. A hair is rooted in a follicle, a concentrated, restricted opening. We thus say that the shin with a point on the left side represents severity and constraint.

The shin with four columns is found on the tefillin that is worn on the head. One side of the head tefillin has a shin with three lines and the other has one with four lines. In his personal notes7 the Rebbe offers two reasons for this. First, the four-lined shin is the shin of the Luchos, the Tablets of the Ten Commandments. The four lines represent the awesomeness and holiness of the engraving of G‑d’s word into physical stone. To visualize this, imagine the three lines of the shin etched into stone. If you focus on the stone that remains around the shin, there will be four columns. These are the four lines of this form of the shin. They are the wake, the reflected light of the Luchos.

The second of the Rebbe’s reasons is that the four-pronged shin represents the four mothers: Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.

One can make a connection between these two interpreta­tions. Like the Luchos, the teachings of our mothers are truly inscribed upon our hearts and minds. A mother teaches out of love and compassion. Her lessons commence even before birthand make an everlasting impression upon her children. Contrast this with the instruction of one’s father. This begins slightly later in life, and often in an atmosphere of austerity and sever­ity.

The mother’s education is more fundamental, more indelible and is therefore represented by the Luchos, which are engraved. The father’s education is likened to the letters of the Torah, ink on parchment, which can be erased. Even though the father’s instructions are important, the mother has a more impression­able and permanent effect on the child. Our mothers and the awesomeness of their teachings are therefore, like the Luchos, represented by the four-pronged shin.

The last of the four forms is the silent shin. The silent shin is found in the name Yissachar, which contains two shins, יששכר.Only the first one is pronounced. What happened to the sec­ond? We must first understand who Yissachar was. Yissachar and Zevulun were two of Leah’s children. The two brothers made a pact. Yissachar would study Torah all day and Zevulun would go out into the world and conduct business. Zevulun would then return home and split his profits fifty-fifty with Yissachar. Reciprocally, half of the merits of Yissachar’s Torah study would be transferred to Zevulun. In order for one to be able to engage in full-time Torah study, there must be those who support Torah learning. Thus the first shin in Yissachar—representing the active partner, Yissachar—is pronounced. But the second shin—representing the silent partner, Zevulun—remains mute.8

The above theme is underscored within the actual structure of the word Yissachar. Yissachar, יששכר, can be divided into two words: יש שכר,9 yesh s’char, meaning “there is reward.” This translation alludes directly to Zevulun and his sponsorship. It is also consistent with the last mishnah in Tractate Uktzin. The mishnah states: “In the future, G‑d will bequeath to each tzad­dik and tzaddik (i.e., each and every tzaddik) 310 worlds.” What constitutes these 310 worlds? The Alter Rebbe explains in Likkutei Torah:10 “As Jews we have 613 mitzvos and 7 Rabbini­cal laws which equal 620, the same as the gematria of Kesser, crown. As the Sefirah of Kesser represents the world of pleas­ure, it is thus the ultimate level of reward for doing mitzvos. The 310 worlds are exactly half.”

One can say that the division of the 620 worlds reflects the division of rewards between the tzaddik Yissachar and the tzaddik Zevulun. This too is mirrored within the word יש שכר: yesh equals 310: י=10, ש=300. The 310 (yesh) worlds serve as a reward (s’char) for Zevulun for his partnership with Yissachar.

In the name of his father Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson,11 the Rebbe explains that there are two levels to the Torah: the level that is revealed, the Talmud and Halachah, and the level that is concealed, Kabbalah and Chassidus. The revealed level is pronounced, thus the first shin of Yissachar. But the second shin, the concealed level, remains silent.

Gematria

The numerical value of shin is three hundred.12 We know that the number one hundred represents perfection. In the academic world, scoring one hundred percent on an exam is considered impeccable. The same concept holds true in Judaism. If a per­son constitutes three unwavering lines of thought, speech, and action, then he is perfect. This person is thus represented by the number three hundred. All three of his columns are one hundred percent.

The shin, which stands for shuvah (penitence), also represents the Day of Atonement—Yom Kippur. The gematria of the word kapper (“atonement”) is 300: kaf = 20, pei = 80 and reish = 200. The day of Yom Kippur is the power generator that gives a person the potential to be perfect throughout the entire year. When we atone (kapper=300) for our sins on Yom Kippur, we have the potential to reach the perfection of the shin, which is 300.

Alternately, if the letter shin is spelled out, שין, its gematria is 360: shin = 300, yud = 10, nun = 50. There are 12 months in a year. The average month is 30 days.13 12 times 30 is 360. Thus the atonement of Yom Kippur (where shin = 360)has an effect on the entire year (which has an average of 360 days).14

Meaning

The letter shin has five definitions.15 The first is shein, which means “tooth,” or “teeth.” The second is lo shanisi, meaning “stead­fastness in one’s faith.” The third is shinoy, which is “to change for the good.” The fourth is shuvah, which means “to return.” The fifth is shanah, or “year.”

The general use of one’s teeth (shein) is to chew food. The teeth break up and grind food. This action represents an indi­vidual who carefully “chews over,” or is careful with his actions. Additionally, the teeth represent strength. Many times, if we don’t have the strength to break something with our hands, we use our teeth.

This strength brings us to the next interpretation of the shin, which is lo shinisi, he who does not change. This exemplifies the individual who is strong in his faith. He may move to another locale. The weather may wax hot or cold. The state of his work or finances may fluctuate. But this individual has the ability to remain strong and not be swayed by the circum­stances of his life.

The shin also represents the concept of shinoy, which is to change for the good. When a person realizes that he has faults, that he is not perfect in his intellect, understanding and knowl­edge, or in his thought, speech and action, he makes an attempt to improve these qualities.

This ability to change has a direct connection to the concept of shuvah, which means to return—to return to the path of the three Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. As Jews, we’ve inherited our forefathers’ connection to G‑d: the quality of love from Abraham, awe from Isaac, and mercy from Jacob. Every Jew can always return to G‑d.

This leads us to the last interpretation of shin, shanah, which means “year.” A year contains four seasons. Fall is the time when one enters the business world following a month full of holidays: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkos. Winter is a span of coldness and indifference. Spring embodies a period of rebirth and growth. It reminds us not to be complacent, but rather to constantly grow in G‑dliness and humanity. And the heat of summer arouses the body’s passions. Throughout every aspect of seasonal change, one must remain steadfast in one’s faith in G‑d. The four seasons are echoed in the four lines of the shin. The antidote for the challenges inherent in each of the four seasons is the four Matriarchs. Their love and consistency nurture our growth from one season to the next.

Rosh Hashanah is also connected to the letter shin. The Mish­nah tells us that there are three different Rosh Hashanahs. This is reflected in the shin’s three different lines—each represent­ing one of the three shanim, or heads of the year. There’s yet another opinion positing that there are four heads to the year.16 This is signified by the shin with four lines or heads.

According to Chassidic philosophy, there is actually another Rosh Hashanah. One can say that this is symbolized by the crown on the letter shin.This Rosh Hashanah occurs on the 19th of Kislev, the day the Alter Rebbe was released from prison in 1798. The Alter Rebbe had been incarcerated due ultimatelyto his authorship of the Tanya, known as the “writ­ten law” of Chabad Chassidus. Tragically, he was slandered by some of his fellow Jews, who felt that his mystical text was too radical for the prevailing current of Jewish thought. These adversaries reported the Alter Rebbe to the authorities, and he was subsequently arrested for treason.

The 19th of Kislev is not only celebrated by chassidim, it has been acknowledged by the leaders of the Lithuanian yeshivah world as well, including Rabbi Chaim “Brisker” Soloveitchik and Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky of Vilna, as depicted in the opening stories of this chapter.

It should be noted that the 19th of Kislev is known to chassi­dimas “the holiday of holidays.”17 In Judaism, every holiday is referred to as a Festival of Joy (simchah). Since Chassidic philosophy teaches that every day and everything one does must be infused with joy, the Chassidic new year is hence the quintessence and source of this joy.

Now, one of the things that makes the shin unique among the letters is that it can be placed in different places within the body of a word without changing the meaning of that word itself. It may, however, affect that word’s spiritual signifi­cance.18

The classic example of this is the Hebrew word for “sheep.” It can be spelled כשב (kesev)or כבש (keves). A sheep was the traditional twice-daily sacrifice in the days of the First and Second Holy Temples. Both words contain the exact same three letters. In kesev, the shin comes before the beis. But in keves, the beis precedes the shin. We know that the letter kaf repre­sents Kesser, the crown of G‑d, representing G‑d’s will and pleasure. The beis is the human intellect, which is generally divided into two aspects: the concept and the actual apprehen­sion of that idea. The letter shin represents the three columns of one’s emotions (Chessed, Gevurah, Tiferes). Now, the sequence of human behavior typically follows the established pattern of keves: First comes a person’s desire for pleasure (kaf). The next step is the beis, intellect, bringing that desire into a cognitive design. This process finally leads to the emotions (shin) which lead to the goal’s fulfillment.

Sometimes, however, one is able to bypass the intellect by employing the emotions to bring the desire to fruition. For example, the emotional stress of a deadline will give a person the strength to stay up all night and perform in a superhuman fashion. Were the intellect his sole motivator, the job would most likely be performed in a more methodical, but less effi­cient manner. That’s the word kesev. Instead of the beis (intel­lect) directly following the kaf (kesser), we first have the shin, the three columns of emotions. The beis, intellect, comes last. When a person has this ability to positively employ his emo­tions before his intellect, he exemplifies the concept of shtus de kedushah—suprarational spiritual folly (as discussed in the chapter on the letter kuf).

This aspect of kesev is exemplified by the way the Jews held on to their Jewish traditions and customs during the seventy years of Communism in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. They had every reason to give up their Jewish practice. According to Torah law, one isn’t required to die for Judaism. One doesn’t have to give up one’s life to keep Shabbos. One doesn’t have to die to fulfill the mitzvah of praying three times daily, or studying Torah.Yet throughout the course of history many Jews proclaimed with pride, “We will continue to live as Jews even if we have to die in the process.”

Chanukah represents that same aspect. When the saga of Cha­nukah unfolded, it wasn’t the Jews’ physical bodies that were in danger, it was their spiritual lives. The Syrian-Greeks said, “Live in Israel. We will not harm you. Just follow our law. Don’t circumcise your children. Don’t keep Shabbos. Don’t study the Torah.” But the innermost spark within the Jewish people, their connection to G‑d, surpassed their intellect. It was because of this that they were willing to sacrifice their lives—and ultimately were rewarded with victory over their enemies and the discovery of a single cruse of oil that lasted miracu­lously for eight complete days. Again, we see the operative nature of kesev when the emotions of the shin precede the intellect of the beis.

The sheep (keves or kesev), humble by nature, follows its master, the shepherd. It is completely subservient to G‑d’s will. As a result it is used as a sacrifice on the altar to be one with G‑d. This is the letter shin, the letter that unites a person with G‑d.

Footnotes
1.
  The day the Alter Rebbe was released from prison in 1798. See HaYom Yom, entry for 19 Kislev.
2.
  Rabbi Chaim “Brisker” Soloveitchik (1853-1918).
3.
  Reb Chaim Ozer was a member of the Lithuanian movement and had great respect for chassidim, as they had for him. He was a friend and colleague of the Rebbe Rashab, the fifth Rebbe of Chabad, and they worked together on many projects for the Jewish people in Russia.
4.
  As the story goes, Rabbi Chaim Ozer was referring to the fact that his colleague did not fast on BeHaB—the tradition of fasting on Monday, Thursday and Monday after the three major holidays—or the day before the new month. (See the introduction to the Hebrew edition of Kuntres U’Maayon, a well-known discourse written by Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber Schneersohn, the Rebbe Rashab, Kehot Publication Society.)
5.
  See chapter on the letter kaf.
6.
  Ethics of Our Fathers 1:2.
7.
  Reshimos #157, p. 9.
8.
  Another two traditional reasons are found in the classical work Daas Zekeinim m’Baalei Tosfos, which comments on Genesis 30:14.
9.
  See Or HaChaim on Numbers 26:23. Also found in B’nei Yissaschar by R. Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov.
10.
  Behaalos’cha, p. 34a.
11.
  Sefer HaArachim Chabad, Osios, letter shin, p. 453.
12.
  The number 300 represents beauty, נאה (Mishnah Tamid 2:2). Sefer HaSichos 5750, p. 669; see also Shulchan Aruch of the Alter Rebbe, vol. I, ch. 25:9.
13.
  Sefer HaArachim Chabad, loc. cit., pp. 452-453, fn. 365.
14.
  Likkutei Levi Yitzchak, Commentary on Tanach, p. 37. There he also explains that the word hashanah, which literally means “the year,” has the gematria of 360. Also see Sefer HaArachim Chabad, loc. cit., p. 453.
15.
  Ibid., pp. 421-424.
16.
  It states in tractate Rosh Hashanah 1:1 that the first of Nissan is the new year for kings and holidays, and the first of Tishrei is the new year for calendar years, for the tithing of animals, and for planting. The fifteenth of Shevat is the new year for trees. According to the Tanna Kamma, the first of Elul is actually the new year for animal tithing, which would make it the fourth new year.
17.
  Likkutei Sichos, vol. 35, p. 279.
18.
  Sefer HaArachim Chabad, loc. cit., p. 448.
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Yehudit Israel April 1, 2017

Rabbi- What are the 310 "worlds" that the tzadikim are rewarded? I'd like to understand more about 31 and 310. For example, the gematria of the word Yisrael. 'yesh' = 310 and 'e-l'=31. I find it interesting that yesh= ego and materiality and e-l is a transcendent aspect of Hashem. I'd like to hear your thoughts about this as well as the resh=200 which seems to hold these 2 paradoxical 'worlds' (yesh and e-l) together and separate. Thank you Reply

Yehudit Katz Israel April 1, 2017

Rabbi Raskin- I'm trying to learn as much as I can about the letters and especially about shin. Its interesting to note that Hashem tells us to write upon our hearts His directives in the Shema and that the shape of the letter shin is exactly depicted in a cross-section of the heart. In the heart muscle, this shape is the electro-physiological pathway that causes the heart to pump and keep us alive- it receives oxygen-depleted blood in the smaller right vessel, and forcefully pushes oxygenated blood from the larger left chamber to the body. When Hashem explains to us how to love Him (draw close to Him), He specifies to love Him with our 2 hearts- levavecha; with our vital physical energy- nefashecha; and with the empowerment of the uniqueness -me'odecha-which He created each one of us. Reply

Anonymous Rochester NY March 17, 2017

So with the 4 headed shin do we consider the alphabet as consisting of 23 letters pr still 22? Reply

rabbi raskin bklyn hts January 22, 2014

Rebbe Yes, Rebbe means teacher. It is also an acronym for rosh bnai yisroel,
head of the jewish people.
Also watch jewish.tv letters of light, letter shin.

blessings and success, Reply

Jerusalem Juliette Joy Grace Roslyn Eve Rose Gold Northampton January 21, 2014

Does 'Rebbe' mean 'Teacher' Reply

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