By Rabbi Yitzchok
Agudath Israel of the Five Towns
Keil Adon, which we find in Shabbos morning prayers, is written in alphabetical order. What appears to be puzzling is that when this piyut reaches the letter samech, a sin appears instead. It says “Semeichim b’tzeisam v’sasim b’voam.” I was once asked about the reason for this letter switch.
The letters samech and sin are interchanged in a number of places in Tanach. For example, the word seitim in Hoshea (5:2) and Tehillim (101:3) or the word mi’ka’as in Tehillim (6:8) and Iyov (17:7).
These are not the only letters in the Hebrew alphabet that have a habit of interchanging, but they do stand out as such when it comes to piyutim. Another case in point is the piyut of ha’aderes veha’emunah lechai ha’olamim. This piyut, which is part of nusach Sephard for the pesukei dezimra of Shabbos and nusach Ashkenaz for Shacharis on Yom Kippur, has become a song known by all. Here is the problematic line: hasigeu (sin) v’hasegev (samech) l’chai haolamim. There must be a reason why the authors of piyutim wrote them this way, and it’s not because they couldn’t find words beginning with a samech!
I believe the answer is to be found here in Parashas Terumah.
“‘You shall make a Menorah of pure gold’ (Sh’mos 25:31). In the section of the Menorah, there is no letter samech, and so in ma’aseh bereishis. This teaches that in a place where there is a ner, there is no Sattan and no malevolent forces. In the merit of ner mitzvah and ohr Torah, the mouth of the Sattan is shut and unable to accuse” (Baal Haturim, ad loc.).
The letter samech is associated with the sitra achra and with the Sattan. Where spiritual light is present, the samech is not to be found. And so too, with ma’aseh Bereishis. This answers our question, as the piyut of Keil Adon speaks of ma’aseh Bereishis:
Good are the luminaries that our G‑d created. He formed them with knowledge, understanding, and intelligence. He placed in them power and strength to rule over the world.
In the account of the creation of these luminaries, there is no samech. That is why in Keil Adon, a piyut describing the creation of these luminaries, there is no samech. v
Rabbi Frankel can be reached at email@example.com. At local stores: Machat shel Yad Bereishis, Sh’mos, and Vayikra.