You’ll remember how, as children, we sent what we fondly believed to be securely encrypted messages to our friends. The trick was using numbers or symbols in place of letters. Thus, “Dear Joe nice to have seen you yesterday. Are you getting a present for Anne?” could be written something like this: “23 11 4 7 15 19 11 3 22 8 11 14 19 55 4 66 11,” and so on.
We quickly learned how to decode this kind of message. In most English writing, the letter ‘e’ occurs far more frequently than, say, the letters ‘p’ or ‘y’. In my example above, out of 61 letters, the letter ‘e’ shows up a disproportionate 13 times. By substituting an ‘e’ for the most frequently occurring symbol, the message starts to reveal its meaning. The next most frequently found letter in English is T, followed by A. With a few more substitutions the message can be decoded.
The Lord’s language, Hebrew, however, shows fewer sharply defined letter distinctions. For the most part, letters show up with similar frequency. For instance, throughout the Five Books of Moses, the Torah, any sequence of 150 words will almost always contain several instances of every letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Furthermore, every passage will have roughly the same number of most of the 22 letters.
By contrast, one has to read more than 1,000 words into Shakespeare’s first play, King Henry VI Part 1, in order to find words containing a letter ‘Z’. Over 12% of letters in typical English passages are the letter ‘E’. There are six letters that usually don’t even occur 1% of the time. They are Z, Q, J, X, K and V.
I tell you this so that you will be as excited as I was when I was first taught that although 21 of the Hebrew alphabet’s 22 letters appear by the 15th verse of the Book of Genesis, one letter stubbornly refuses to show itself for yet another 27 verses. Yes, that’s right. The Hebrew letter SaMeCH, pronounced like the English letter “S,” only appears for the first time here:
The name of the first is Pishon, the one that encircles [HaSoVeV]
the whole land of Havilah… – (Genesis 2:11)
See the magnificence of God’s patterns! The long delayed SaMeCH, shaped like a circle, finally shows up for the first time right in the very word ‘encircles’.
This letter, SaMeCH, shows up for the second time here:
…and He took one of his sides and he closed [VaYiSGoR] the flesh in its place. – (Genesis 2:21)
Interestingly enough, the English word ‘enclosed’ doesn’t mean shut or locked; it means to surround or encircle. Thus the significance of the SaMeCH is again emphasized.
That is not all. In English, the name of the letter ‘D’ – Dee or ‘H’—Aich, is meaningless. But in the Lord’s language, the name of each Hebrew letter is vital. The name of the letter SaMeCH means to prop-up or to support. This forces us to ask: How can an enclosing circle that limits, confines, and restricts be supportive?
The answer is that when looked at from outside, a large and imposing building with high and robust walls can either be a prison or a fortress. It’s hard to tell the difference.
in Europe, during medieval Jewish history and all the way up to World War 2, many Jews lived in ghettos. To be sure, Jews chafed at the restriction of being forced to live there and saw the ghetto as a prison. However, at the same time, most religious Jewish leaders also viewed the ghetto as a fortress. It was as effective at keeping bad cultural ideas out as at keeping Jews confined. In their ghettos, Jews ran their businesses, raised their families, and established their institutions of study and communal care. What you do with those walls that enclose you is up to you.
We all go through periods in both our personal and our professional lives in which we feel utterly imprisoned. It’s as if our vitality and initiative are drained by the walls, real or imagined, that encage us. Yet a jail can also become a jetpack to the future. In that situation we must start by remembering the secret of the Hebrew letter SaMeCH. It encircles but also provides support. Allow those walls to support and nurture you as you plan your escape.
The SaMeCH is one of 22 letters comprising the Hebrew alphabet. It is never too early to start getting to know them all. While our newest book is meant for children ages 2-6, there is truly no upper age limit. As long as you’re young at heart, you’ll get a kick out of this colorful introduction to the Hebrew alphabet and so will the children in your life. We even have bonus pages geared to adults! We are currently shelving Aleph-Bet: A Fun, Rhyming, Bible-based Introduction to the Hebrew Alphabet. Enjoy!