The Hebrew Letter Shin

The Hebrew Letter Shin

So many things don’t bother me anymore — things that I used to consider grave sins — that someone recently asked me, “Don’t you care about anything?”

I considered my response for a full week, and decided that what I care about most is a specific virtue that does not seem to have an English name. I wrote about it a year ago in the post Can You Name This Virtue? and my most faithful commenter, ~Joshua, won the contest. Here is what he said (emphases mine).

… [To] ‘judge’ almost exactly describes your [mystery virtue]. Maybe not so much the English concept of it. Because English is a noun based language, we tend to think of some dude in a flowing robe with a wooden mallet and scowl.

The Hebrew word for judge is shaphat (שפט). Hebrew is an action based pictographic language upon which all other thoughts and concepts are built. Pictographically, shaphat means to ‘gather, divide and speak’. The tet (ט) is a basket which is used for gathering and holding, the shin (ש) is teeth which are used to divide, consume, or destroy, and the pey (פ) is a mouth which is used to speak.

This can also been seen in the Hebrew alefbet where the ayine (ע) comes before the pey (פ). They agyine (ע) is an eye both the outward ones and the inward or ‘mind’s eye’. With the eye a person see, looks, perceives. It comes before they pey because we should consider or think before we speak.

I think shaphat — to diligently gather facts and consider them honestly before speaking a conclusion even to oneself — is the highest virtue. Unless one does this, whatever other good one does is almost by accident.

Some might nominate love as the highest virtue. I disagree. It is possible to love too much, but it is not possible to be too honest. Suppose a boy misbehaves in class. If his mother loves him excessively, she may disbelieve the teacher’s report and the boy may not get the benefit of being corrected. We say the mother is “blinded by love” and the boy ultimately suffers for it. The only cure is honesty or, more poetically, the process ~Joshua described in the letter-story of shaphat.

In contrast, nobody was ever “blinded by honesty.” In fact, the more honest we are, the more we are able to love. Speaking for myself, when I lived in a world of dogma (the opposite of living shaphat), too much of my so-called love for other people consisted of wishing that they believed the things I did. As I wrote in Love the Sinner; Hate the Sin, real love includes questioning one’s own convictions about what is really sin. Now that I’m more focused on what makes people flourish in this life, instead of their acceptance of dogma as qualification for the next, I’m more able to love them as they are.

Without shaphat, it is even possible to love the wrong things. For me, that has especially meant wrong ideas. ~Joshua said, “The tet (ט) is a basket which is used for gathering and holding, the shin (ש) is teeth which are used to divide, consume, or destroy…” After we have gathered putative facts, are we willing to divide them into those that should should be consumed (internalized) and those that should be destroyed (rejected as non-facts)? Virtue is rarely easy, and it is certainly difficult to let go of cherished beliefs which, upon further shaphat, turn out to be untrue.

When the gathering phase has not yielded enough facts to warrant a conclusion, shaphat includes the ability to say, “I don’t know.” For most of my life, those were very hard words to speak. Now they’re the easiest in the world! They defuse any argument, and saying “I don’t know” is much more comfortable than attempting to defend a position that does not have adequate support.

So that’s what I care about most. I wish you every blessing of shaphat.

6 responses to “Shaphat


    Great post, Larry. Attached is my most recent “Memoir course” piece, which reflects the same sort of thinking, although not as broadly or as eloquently! The subject was to be something about “school.” Enjoy! Love, Dad

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  5. Well, I’m glad God so “LOVED” the world…Larry, your viewpoint on judgement may not be quite as “honest” as you’d like it to be. For you to judge true you would need to be, well, non-human to see man as God sees them, through eyes of love. In your opening you mentioned “grave sins.” Determining severity of sin implies understanding right from wrong, going back to the garden. This is mans dilemma…”growing up” and thinking that he/she understands a persons circumstances and/or filtering the “evidence” at the scene of the crime in so doing being able to “know sin.” Jesus said we must become like a child…the innocence of a child’s judgement is not “honesty” for a child where’s it on the cuff. No. it is the judge-less innocence of a child that brings about true love, no colors, no sexes, no races, no judgement whatsoever…perfect loves cast out all fear!

    blessings in your walk Larry.

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