Yaakov had been terribly ill for weeks. He finally decided to ask R. Mordechai of Neshchiz for advice. “Rebbe,” he sobbed, “please help me. I am extremely sick. I have gone to every doctor in town, but none of them has a cure for me.”

“It seems that you haven’t gone to the right doctor,” replied R. Mordechai. “Go immediately to Anipoli and talk to the specialist there. Then you will be cured.”

Yaakov thanked the Rebbe for his advice, hired a wagon, and set out for Anipoli. When he arrived there, he rushed over to the first person he saw and asked, “Please, tell me where the great specialist lives. I am very ill and must see him right away.”

The person was puzzled. “You came to Anipoli for a specialist?! This is such a small village, we don’t even have a doctor here.”

“You must be mistaken,” Yaakov insisted. “R. Mordechai of Neshchiz explicitly told me to go to Anipoli and see the specialist here. You must tell me—where does he live?”

“But there is no doctor here,” the man repeated.

Yaakov went to everyone in town, asking each the same question: “Where is the specialist? I must see the specialist right away.” And everyone gave him the same answer: “There is no specialist in Anipoli. There is not even a doctor.”

Disappointed and frustrated, Yaakov returned to R. Mordechai of Neshchiz. “Rebbe,” he said, “I don’t understand. You sent me to Anipoli, but the people told me that not only is there no specialist there, there is not even a doctor.”

“Hmm. They don’t even have a doctor?” questioned the Rebbe. “So did you ask the people what they do when some­one is sick?”

“I did,” Yaakov replied. “They told me that when someone is sick, they pray to G‑d and rely on Him to cure them.”

“Now do you understand?” R. Mordechai explained. “The people in Anipoli go to the greatest specialist in the world. They pray to G‑d. He is the one Who cures us all.”1

Design

The design of the samech is a closed circle. A circle represents infinity, because it has no beginning or end. In Kabbalah the samech represents the infinite power of the Ein Sof, G‑d’s infinite light. The samech also symbolizes an ambitious, enter­prising individual.

The circular aspect of the samech represents support, like the rings that encircle and hold together all the elements of the lulav.2

The samech also resembles a wedding band. In a relationship, a husband and wife have a strong desire to be wholly bonded as well as an intermittent need to separate. Since a circle has no points of distinction, the many different aspects of marriage do not need to conflict with one another: they can be ultimately bound together within the same uninterrupted structure of the circle.

Finally, the ring symbolizes a couple’s commitment to each other. A woman symbolizes her uncompromising support of her husband by circling him seven times under the chuppah. Simi­larly, the man’s commitment is symbolized by the giving of a ring. When you pick up someone who has fallen, you support and encircle him or her. With the wedding ring we are saying in effect, “This ring has no beginning or end, no highs or lows. The characteristic of encircling is constant. So, too, will my commitment to you be constant, encompassing your whole being, regardless of the highs and lows of the relationship.”

We find the same concept regarding the Jewish people who were married to G‑d at Mount Sinai. The Talmud3 states that the Giving of the Torah at Sinai “was the betrothal ceremony” when G‑d gave us the ring, our wedding band. At that time we committed ourselves to follow G‑d’s laws, “and G‑d then obligated Himself to provide the Jewish people with sustenance and livelihood.”4

Gematria

The numerical value of the samech, the fifteenth letter of the alef-beis, is sixty. In the Priestly Blessing5 recited every morn­ing there are fifteen words and sixty letters. When the kohen blesses the people,6 he must put his two hands together. According to the Mishnah there are thirty bones in each hand, sixty when the hands are joined.

What is unique about the Priestly Blessing? The results of such blessings are swift and without interruption, similar to the strength of a current of mighty water that no dam can stop. The Priestly Blessings embody the concept of the samech: infinite light and power.

A halachah regarding kashrus is an example of samech’s strength. Suppose someone is cooking a big cholent7 full of meat and needs to prepare a bottle of milk for his or her baby. A drop of milk accidentally falls into the pot. Is the cholent now unkosher? The law states that if there is sixty times the amount of cholent to the one drop of milk, then the error is completely nullified. The ratio of this nullification is one to sixty, and is the origin of the term batel beshishim (“nullified by sixty”).

It is interesting to note that the word ayin, which means “nothing,” reiterates this concept when the value of its letters are added: alef = 1, yud = 10, and nun = 50, equaling 61. One to sixty is like nothing.

Other significant connections to sixty: King Solomon had sixty of his finest men surrounding his bed every night for protection. The Mishnah has sixty tractates. Sleep is one-sixtieth of death; a dream is one-sixtieth of prophecy; fire is one-sixtieth of hell; and honey constitutes one-sixtieth of the manna.

Being the fifteenth letter of the alef-beis, the samech shares an interesting connection to marriage through the number fifteen. The Talmud8 states: “There were never greater days of joy for the Jewish people than the fifteenth of Av.” On the fifteenth of the month of Av the single girls of Israel would go out into the field and dance in a circle (a samech) and sing, “Boys, pick up your eyes and look and find yourself a wife.” Since a man and woman joined in marriage represents the greatest oneness and therefore the greatest joy in the world, this joy can be attributed to the circle of the samech.

The Rebbe says that the fifteenth of Av is the day that gives us a taste of the revelation that will accompany Mashiach and the rebuilding of the third Holy Temple.9 We are told that the fifteenth of any month is the zenith of the Jewish calendar since the Jewish people are compared to the moon, and on the fifteenth the moon is full. The fifteenth of Av is the pinnacle of the month of Av. Since the descent in Av is the lowest on the calendar (the destruction of both Temples on the Ninth of Av), then the resulting ascent, the fifteenth of Av, is the highest day on the calendar.10

Av is actually spelled אב,alef-beis. This hints that the great­est letter in the alef-beis is the samech. The greatest day of the year, the 15th of Av, can also be read the 15th (letter) of the alef-beis.11

If there is one day that could surpass the elation of husband and wife finding each other, it would be the coming of Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Temple—the supreme union and reunion of the Jewish people and G‑d. As it states in the Talmud:12 “[At that time] G‑d will make a circle for all the righteous [like a samech] and He will sit among them. Every one of them will point with his finger and say, ‘This is our G‑d...we have awaited Him and He is here to save us. ...Let us exalt and be glad in His salvation.’”13

Meaning

The word samech means “to support,” as it states in the Shemoneh Esreh:14Someich noflim—You support those who fall.” It is not by chance that the samech follows the nun in the alef-beis. As mentioned earlier, the nun is one who has fallen, and as such, needs the samech to be supported or lifted up. On the other side of the nun is the mem, which also bolsters it. But the samech is greater than the mem. Every day we say in the morning blessings15 that G‑d is Someich noflim—He supports those who fall. We also say that He is Zokeif kefufim (with the mem appearing at the end of the phrase)—He straightens those who are bent. While the mem signifies the straightening of one who is bent, the samech can bear the weight of those who have entirely fallen.

The first two letters of the word samech are סמsamech-mem. Together they spell the word sam, which means a potion or medicine. This is not only relevant with regard to one’s physical health but also one’s spiritual health. The word samech סמך is an acronym for: salach סלח,to forgive; mechal מחל,to pardon; and kaper כפר, to atone. When one takes strides to forgive, pardon and atone, one achieves a great spiritual heal­ing.

It is also said that the samech and the mem represent two distinct eras.16 The closed mem represents Gan Eden, Paradise (which is concealed from the human eye), the world of souls which currently exists in another dimension. The samech (which is greater than the mem) represents the era of Techiyas HaMeisim, the Resurrection of the Dead.17 This is the ultimate manifestation of Mashiach’s coming, when all the souls of the departed will return to bodily form and reside on earth for all time.

In the World to Come, the ring of the samech becomes even greater than its original function of supporting the fallen. For then it will radiate the infinite, transcendent healing which will last for eternity.