Tet (also spelled tes) is the ninth letter of the Hebrew alphabet
Numerical value: 9
Sound: "T"
Meaning: Good or best

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Avraham Rothenberg, an Israeli descendant of the Rabbinic dynasty of Gerer chassidim, had been a teacher in Brazil for five years. On one of his trips back to Israel, he stopped off in New York, visited Chabad, and was very impressed. He eventually moved to Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

One night, the loud ringing of the telephone woke him from his sleep. His brother was calling from Israel with very troubling news: their father had suffered a serious heart attack a few hours before. His condition was serious, almost critical.

As soon as Avraham put down the receiver, he considered immediately booking a flight to Israel, but on second thought he realized that his traveling could not help the situation. Instead, he decided to write a letter to the Rebbe, asking for his holy blessing.

Fearing the worst, he began to write with a trembling hand. It was extremely difficult for him to concentrate. His mind would not let him rest. “I don’t know what to think,” were the final words in his letter.

With a heavy heart, he handed the letter to the Rebbe’s secretary. While he was waiting for an answer, he took out his Book of Psalms and began to recite some chapters. The tears choked him... Creator of the Universe... Why?!

A few minutes later, the Rebbe’s secretary handed him back the letter he had written. The Rebbe had struck a line through the words “I don’t know what to think,” and wrote the following in the margin:

“Amazing. The command of our Sages in such situations is well known: Tracht gut, vet zain gut (“Think positively and it will be good”), and I expect to hear good news.”

Instantaneously, Avraham’s mood changed from one extreme to another. He was filled with optimism and hope for a better future for his father, as if someone had shaken him out of his lethargy, out of those destructive thoughts that had brought him to depression. The color returned to his face. He opened his Book of Psalms with renewed faith in G‑d. The words flowed from his mouth with joy. His trust in the Rebbe and in the Rebbe’s instructions to think positively put hope for immediate salvation in his heart.

He went to phone his family in Israel for the latest news about his father. The news was encouraging: “Father’s condi­tion is no longer listed as life-threatening.”

But the big surprise came a few days later, after the Min­chah service, when he met the Rebbe on his way out of the beis midrash.Nu, do you have any good news for me?” the Rebbe asked him.

“Yes, I spoke with my family on the phone, and my father’s condition has improved.”

“When did this happen?” the Rebbe questioned.

“Two days ago.”

“And when did you begin to ‘think positively’?”

“As soon as I received the Rebbe’s response, two days ago.”

“You see,” the Rebbe said. “Even though you should never have to know from such things, be aware that one should always ‘think positively.’”

Avraham Rothenberg’s father merited seventeen more years of life. (The gematria of the word tov, טוב, (good) is sev­enteen.) He was even able to travel to the United States to meet the Rebbe himself.1


Tes is the ninth letter of the alef-beis.

The design of the tes is like a pot, a vessel with an inverted rim, representing hidden or inverted good.2 Another interpreta­tion of the tes is that it represents a man bending his head to G‑d in prayer and thanks.3 How are the two connected? We just explained the letter ches as representing the concept of mar­riage. After the union between husband and wife, then, G‑d willing, there’s a conception. The tes represents the hidden good that resides within the womb (the vessel) of the mother. This hidden good is actualized through a person’s prayers to G‑d, asking Him for a healthy child.


The numerical value of tes is nine. This corresponds to the nine months of pregnancy. Furthermore, the number nine is a “true” number. Truth or אמת (emes), is spelled alef—the first letter of the alef-beis; mem—the middle letter; and the tav4—the last letter. The lesson is that something that is true must be true at the beginning, middle, and end.

What makes nine a “true” number is that if you multiply any whole number by nine, the sum of its digits is also nine; e.g., two times nine is eighteen; one plus eight is nine. Three times nine is twenty-seven; two plus seven is nine. Nine times nine is eighty-one; eight plus one is nine. Finally, the gematria of emes is 441: alef=1, mem=40, tav=400. 4 and 4 and 1=9. Nine repre­sents the number of truth.


The meaning of tes is tov, which means “good” or “best.” A story is told in the Talmud5 about the great Torah Sage Nachum Ish Gamzu who always said, “Gam zu letovah—This too is for the best.” One day, Nachum Ish Gamzu traveled to the Roman Emperor to give him a treasure chest full of precious metals and jewels as a gift on behalf of his community. That night he slept at an inn and stowed the jewel-laden chest in a secret hiding place. When Nachum Ish Gamzu was asleep, the innkeeper switched the chest with another.

The next morning,when Nachum Ish Gamzu was about to leave the inn, he opened the chest, and to his dismay there were no longer diamonds and rubies inside. Instead, the entire vessel was filled with sand. Nachum Ish Gamzu said, “Gam zu letovah—This too is for the best,” and continued on his way. He arrived at the palace and said, “Emperor, because of our great respect for you, my town is presenting this gift to you.” The Emperor opened the chest and saw the sand. He thought, well, there must be something else beneath it. He sifted through the sand. He dug his hand into one side of the chest, then the other. But all he found was sand. The Emperor said, “For mocking me, I will have you put to death.” Nachum Ish Gamzu’s reaction was, of course, “Gam zu letovah.” Immediately, in walked one of the sovereign’s advisers (the Talmud tells us it was Elijah the Prophet in the guise of a Roman senator). “What are you talk­ing about?” Elijah declared. “Do you think the Jews are so stupid? Do you think they are so foolish they’d give you simple sand?! This must be the same sand that Abraham (the Patriarch) used when he fought against the four kings.6 Abraham single-handedly conquered the most powerful kings of his time. Do you know how he did it? He possessed magic sand. He threw it into the air and the sand turned into knives and spears and arrows.”

“Really?” responded the Emperor. “Let’s try it out.”

At that time, the Emperor’s forces were in the midst of a war. They were trying to conquer a neighboring province, so the Emperor sent this chest to the front lines with his soldiers and they began to throw handfuls of sand toward the enemy. Lo and behold, the sand was transformed into these magic secret weapons! In a day or two, the Roman army was able to over­whelm the entire province. The Emperor thanked Nachum Ish Gamzu, saying, “Because you did this for me, I’m going to reward you with a chest of gold and silver. Take it back to your people and tell them that if they should ever need anything, they should come to me. I’ll be happy to oblige them.”

On his way back home, Nachum Ish Gamzu stopped at the same inn. The proprietor asked him, “What gift did you bring the Emperor that he showed you such honor?” He replied, “Well, you know, I had this chest full of sand. I brought it to the Emperor and this magical sand turned into arrows and spears when thrown at his enemies.” The innkeeper heard this and said to himself, “Wow! That’s the sand in my backyard!” So what did the man do? He filled up an entire wagon full of sand. The innkeeper brought it to the Emperor and said, “You know that sand Nachum Ish Gamzu brought you last week? This is the same stuff.” The Emperor was overjoyed and imme­diately sent the wagon of sand to the troops. When the “magic sand” turned out to be a sham, the infuriated Emperor ordered the execution of this deceitful innkeeper.

There’s a second famous story from the Talmud,7 this one featuring Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva, a student of Nachum Ish Gamzu, would say, “Kal d’avid Rachmana letav avid—What­ever G‑d does, must be for the good.” The tale is told of how Rabbi Akiva traveled with a candle, a rooster, and a donkey: the candle so he could study Torah at night, the rooster—his alarm clock—to wake him up to study Torah, and finally the donkey to carry his possessions. Rabbi Akiva stopped at a city. He tried to get lodging at an inn but there was no room avail­able. Rabbi Akiva went from house to house but nobody would let him in. So what did he do? He walked into the neighboring woods and set up camp. All of a sudden, a strong wind kicked up and extinguished the candle. A few moments later, a fero­cious lion emerged from behind his tent and killed his donkey. What was left? The rooster. A ravenous cat appeared and devoured it. Rabbi Akiva was completely stuck. What did he say? “Whatever G‑d does, must be for the good.”

The next morning, Rabbi Akiva discovered that a band of robbers had attacked the town during the night, mercilessly killing the people and stealing their money. The robbers escaped into the forest. If they had seen the candle, or heard the noise of the rooster and donkey, Rabbi Akiva would have met the same fate as the townspeople. G‑d had saved his life by extinguishing his candle and taking his animals.

Now, there’s a big difference between the terminology of Nachum Ish Gamzu and that of Rabbi Akiva.8 Nachum Ish Gamzu said, “Gam zu letovah”: Even though something may appear negative, it is itself good. The chestful of sand itself was good, regardless of the loss of the precious jewels. And so it was. This was his philosophy, his ethos of living. Nachum Ish Gamzu’s approachwas not that he would later see the value of the sand; its worth was immediate and intrinsic.

On the other hand, in the story of Rabbi Akiva, the actual loss of his donkey and rooster, according to him, was not good. But it was a smaller loss compared to a greater loss. Rabbi Akiva would eventually see the good the very next day. But the immediate sacrifice was viewed as negative.

All of us can learn a practical lesson from the above. When we’re taking a trip, for example, our tire might suddenly blow out. We think, “Oy vey! It’s going to kill our plans. We’ll have to spend hours changing the tire. Then we’ll have to stay at a motel instead of making the trip in one day.” Now, we could say, “Perhaps G‑d is saving us from yet a worse situation that would have taken place had we continued our trip as planned.” But the emes—the truth—is that standing on the side of the road with a flat tire at that time is in itself good. Even events that are not readily perceived as being positive are totally good, since everything comes from G‑d and G‑d is all good.

This is the lesson of the tes.