Judaism & Numbers

Jewish tradition values some numbers more than others.

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8-Eight is the number of completion. The Tabernacle was dedicated in an eight-day ceremony. Male children are circumcised on the eighth day (Genesis 17). Hanukkah is an eight-day holiday.

10-Ten is a symbol of good luck and power: there are 10 commandments. God requires 10 righteous individuals in Sodom to avert divine punishment, and 10 men constitute a traditional minyan, a spiritual community (Genesis 18, 24:10;Exodus 26:1; Daniel 7:7-24).

12-Twelve represents totality, wholeness, and the completion of God's purpose. There are 12 tribes of Israel (10 of which must be restored), 12 months in the year, and 12 houses of the zodiac (Genesis 27:20, 25:16; Exodus 24:4, 25:27; Ezekiel 43:16;Yoma 75b, 77b; Taanit 25a; Hullin 95).

18-Eighteen is the value of the Hebrew letters chet and yod, which together spell the word chai, life. For this reason, 18 is considered the luckiest number. God is mentioned 18 times in both Psalm 29 and the Song of the Sea (Exodus 15:1-21), giving these verses special protective power.

24-The number 24 symbolizes abundance. At its prime, Jerusalem once had 24 dream interpretersyou could consult, 24 main thoroughfares with 24 side-streets leading to 24 alleys each containing 24 houses (Lamentations Rabbah I).

32-According to Sefer Yetzirah, 32 is the number of the "wonderful ways of wisdom," the number of organizing principles that underlie the universe. These are the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet plus the decimal numbers that form the basis for the sefirotic tree.

40-Forty appears many times in the Bible, usually designating a time of radical transition or transformation. Among the most famous examples are these: It rained for 40 days and 40 nightsduring the Flood (Genesis 7). Exodus records that Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai with God. Forty is the number of years the Israelites were required to wanderin the wilderness until they were allowed to enter Canaan. Corporeal punishmentin the Torah involved 40 lashes. Elijah fasted for 40 days prior to receiving his revelation on Mount Horeb. Multiples of 40 are also common: 40,000 menrallied to Barak in the book of Judges.

The Talmud also reports wondrous phenomena occurring in units of 40. It also appears in mystical texts, usually as an element of purification. Thus the Book of the Great Name advises its readers to abstain from sleeping in one's own bed for 40 days and nights after using the book, mimicking the time Moses spent away fromcamp while he received the Ten Commandments (Genesis 7; Exodus 24; I Samuel 17:16; I Kings 19:8; Gittin 39b, 40a; Sotah 34a).

70-This number symbolizes the world. There are 70 nations in the world, 70 languages, and 70 princely angels. The Greek translation of the Bible, the first to make it available to the gentile, was done by 70 Jewish scholars, who, though working separately, produced 70 identical translations.

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Rabbi Geoffrey Dennis

Geoffrey Dennis is rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami in Flower Mound, TX. He is also lecturer in Kabbalah and rabbinic literature at the University of North Texas.