#blogexodus : numbers

the numbers’ game

The chil­dren played by the shore, allow­ing the ball to bounce light­ly on their fin­ger tips before they popped it over to the oth­er side of the line. Now and then one of them dove into the sand try­ing to keep the ball from bounc­ing on the ground. Judy took a break from the game and ran over to her father Sime­on who sat with his col­leagues, half watch­ing as they talked and munched olives with their bread and wine.

Abba, they say that they have 40 and we have love! I know that 40 is good num­ber, after all we lived 40 years in the desert, Moses went up to Sinai to receive Torah for us and stayed there 40 days, and it rained for 40 days and 40 nights in the time of Noah. I also know that I can­not live with­out your love and none of us can live with­out the love of and lov­ing God, and so it must be good too, but what kind of num­ber is it?”

Ah, my wise lit­tle beau­ty, you always ask such won­der­ful­ly rich ques­tions. Indeed, love is won­der­ful and valu­able, but I am afraid, that in your game, as in one of the many puz­zles of life, it is bet­ter to have 40 than love.”

Judy unhap­pi­ly kicked her feet in the sand and shuf­fled back to her game.

a different “who knows one?”

Sime­on returned his atten­tion to his col­leagues. “Our Torah teach­es us many num­bers, but we do not have the same inti­ma­cy with them as do our friends the Greeks.”

number of divine qualities is same as age of maturity

Antig­nos, his dis­ci­ple, spoke up: “Yes, I have long won­dered why it is that the age of matu­ri­ty equals the num­ber of divine qual­i­ties we recite on Yom Kip­pur! “Adon­ai is ever-present, all-mer­ci­ful, com­pas­sion­ate, patient, abound­ing in kind­ness and faith­ful­ness, trea­sur­ing up love for a thou­sand gen­er­a­tions, for­giv­ing iniq­ui­ty trans­gres­sion and wrong­do­ing and par­don­ing the pen­i­tent.”

Antig­nos! Think of it this way…,” Joshua chimed in: “when a young­ster reach­es the age of puber­ty he or she is now like God in so many ways, espe­cial­ly in the abil­i­ty to cre­ate new life. Such a young per­son must now be even more care­ful to be Kadosh, (holy) as Adon­ai, our God is holy!”

Very good Joshua, can we con­tin­ue the count­down from 13 to Love? Asked Sime­on.”


Johanan replied: “Twelve is easy, there’s even an Eng­lish word for the con­cept!”

Don’t get car­ried away,” respond­ed Sime­on, “That Eng­lish word will be based on a con­trac­tion of the Latin for two and ten, so that doesn’t help us much. But you for­get our own his­to­ry and the world around us. Jacob had 12 sons who ulti­mate­ly estab­lished the 12 tribes from which we (though only two remain) are descend­ed. My Greek col­leagues tell me that at the same time in our his­to­ry that we had a fed­er­a­tion of 12 tribes, they also had a fed­er­a­tion that was based on a group of 12 groups.”

And now, gath­er close… I can only whis­per this” (the group scoot­ed up in the sand, clos­ing the cir­cle as the sea wind blew the words quick­ly away): “I under­stand, that some gen­er­a­tions to come one of our young men will gath­er around him 12 dis­ci­ples and, astound­ing as it may seem, far­ther in the future, peo­ple around the world will cel­e­brate his birth for 12 days!”

Sud­den­ly, Johanan who had been chew­ing on an olive choked at the thought and his friends had to pound him on the back to dis­lodge the pit.

When they all regained their com­po­sure, Nit­tai, of Arbel asked why the Greeks had a fed­er­a­tion of 12 and were there, per­haps, oth­er groups like that.

Well,” Sime­on said know­ing­ly and dropped his voice even fur­ther, “Bak­ers will invent their own con­cept of dozen and far on the oth­er side of this sea by whose shores our chil­dren play, a nation will arise that will be formed as if it were a baker’s fed­er­a­tion.”

Sime­on, Stop that!” Said Antig­nos. “Look to the sky and you will know why we use this num­ber! From Rosh haShan­nah to Rosh haShan­nah, the moon renews itself twelve times. We see this cycle in the world about us con­tin­u­ous­ly and we have even found pat­terns in the sky that match each of the moon’s com­ings and goings. The sky shows us a cos­mic fed­er­a­tion that we here on earth mim­ic.”

Yes, Antig­nos, you are right, but don’t deny the plea­sures of the poet­ry, if you do, you have much to lose.”


How can I lose the poet­ry, it is writ­ten right into our own Torah! We see it with the next num­ber, eleven, where Joseph in his dream saw the eleven stars bow to his own.”


OK Antig­nos you found that num­ber,” piped in Joshua again, “but prob­a­bly about the eas­i­est is ten: think of it: toes, fin­gers, the gen­er­a­tions from Adam to Noah and from Noah to Abra­ham, Abra­ham was test­ed ten times before he and Isaac final­ly left the moun­tain togeth­er, there were the plagues upon Egypt and the com­mand­ments Moses received on Mount Sinai. Even now, as the sum­mer ends, we know there are ten days from Rosh haShan­nah to Yom Kip­pur, ten days to get our­selves ready for a new year. But the odd one, Sime­on, is this last: from Rosh haShan­nah (the new year) to Yom Kip­pur (the day of atone­ment) all the oth­er days on our cal­en­dar are based on groups of sev­en. Why sud­den­ly the ten?”

You raise a very good point Joshua. Who has a sug­ges­tion?”

Elazar ten­ta­tive­ly cleared his throat.

Yes,” Elazar, Sime­on gen­tly coaxed (for he knew that the timid do not learn and the impa­tient do not teach) “what is it?”

Well, I have won­dered about this dif­fer­ence for many months. I think it may have some­thing for us to tell the whole world. You know that all the oth­er holy days of our cal­en­dar relate to the events of our people’s his­to­ry and that each one we cel­e­brate for 7 days. But the ideas in Rosh haShan­nah and Yom Kip­pur are cos­mic. They have no ori­gin in our people’s his­to­ry. They tell of the Holy One’s care for the uni­verse, its cre­ation and renew­al. May I sug­gest (even though we have not yet come to that num­ber) that sev­en is the Jew­ish num­ber while ten (which we see so com­mon­ly around us) is the base num­ber for the world?”

Well expressed Elazar, thank you for your thought. Do you mean by that — that we should invite our Greek neigh­bors to join us in our obser­vance of the new year and our atone­ment where they might feel out of place at a cel­e­bra­tion of our lib­er­a­tion from slav­ery which they nev­er expe­ri­enced?”

Not every­one in the group was as com­fort­able with the Greeks as Sime­on, Antig­nos and Elazar. Many of those seat­ed in the sand stirred uncom­fort­ably and Joshua almost rose to leave.

OK, I see that this is a sub­ject for a dis­course of its own at some oth­er time. We need refills on our refresh­ments. Shall we go over to the women and restock our plates?”

The men rose, stretched and slow­ly ambled over to the gath­er­ing of women not far away. As they col­lect­ed fresh plat­ters of olives, bread, dips and wine from the stocks main­tained by the women, Sime­on con­tin­ued his dis­cus­sion:

We have been talk­ing about how var­i­ous num­bers appear in our lives and we just passed from 13 through 10 on our way down.”


Well…,” Shoshan­na called out in her full voice from the back of the group, “you cer­tain­ly came to the right peo­ple to dis­cuss the num­ber nine. We know it in our bod­ies,” she said as she moved up to the front to face Sime­on. “With­out nine months inside your moth­er you wouldn’t exist!” And all the oth­er women chuck­led know­ing­ly as the men looked sheep­ish­ly at their feet.

How right you are, and thank you Shoshan­nah. So much I owe you, my bride, and we all owe to you col­lec­tive­ly. Our world is not only enriched, but enabled by your pres­ence.”


I wish to con­tin­ue the num­ber­ing,” Added Miri­am who stood beside Shoshanah. “We labor for nine long months car­ry­ing the future in our midst only to have you take our boys after eight short days to enter them into your covenant! Why do you sep­a­rate your­selves so from we who give you life?”

At this, both the women and the men gasped and groped in the silence for a rea­soned and cogent response. All eyes turned to Sime­on.

Sime­on bowed his head and thought, he sat down in the sand, at the dust of the feet of his wife Shoshan­nah and gazed into the dis­tance inside the tent. As before, with the men when he told them of the bak­ers’ dozen, Sime­on spoke in a hoarse whis­per. “Long before our time, before Abra­ham, before, per­haps even Noah, I believe you women estab­lished our covenant to help guide us men­folk to know how life depends on our work­ing with you. I also see, in an age yet to come that a time will arise when we men will yet rec­og­nize the equal parts we each play in sus­tain­ing our world. Until that time, we must remem­ber that, even though we have dif­fer­ent and restrict­ed tasks and respon­si­bil­i­ties, we are cre­at­ed in the image of the holy one, an image that we may not, nay, can­not dimin­ish.”

Shoshan­nah reached down to help Sime­on back to this feet: “Go, go back out to the sand which is like the num­bers of our Jew­ish peo­ple, lis­ten to the infi­nite waves and con­tin­ue your count­ing. We have more food to pre­pare before Shab­bat.”

Almost blind­ed by the sun­light of the shore Sime­on picked up a hand­ful of sand, let it pour slow­ly through his fin­gers and searched for his thought. “I seem able to keep only a cer­tain num­ber of ideas, feel­ings and sen­sa­tions in mind at any one time. The bright­ness of the sun and the heat of the sand seem to have pushed out oth­er thoughts. It is almost as though I had been jug­gling balls and one of you threw me two more, I would have to drop two to keep the new ones in the air with at least some of the oth­ers.”

I too, have noticed such a phe­nom­e­non,” offered Elazar, more secure in him­self after his suc­cess with the num­ber ten. “I have tried an exper­i­ment with Antig­nos’ help. It is as you say. We watched a Greek jug­gler in the street not long ago and saw him drop some flam­ing torch­es as he added knives to the cir­cu­lat­ing objects. It was a fright­en­ing sight, but we tried to see if there were lim­its on how many things we could hold onto at once. I recall a say­ing of my father who nev­er tired of telling me: ‘If you try to hold onto too much you won’t hold onto any­thing.’ But how much is too much?”

Good, Elazar and what did you and Antig­nos learn from your exper­i­ment?”


Amaz­ing­ly enough,” Antig­nos joined in: “Sev­en (and some­times one more or less, but) always basi­cal­ly sev­en!”

Our num­ber as I said ear­li­er,” added Elazar almost squirm­ing with excite­ment. “But why sev­en, I have not yet rea­soned. It is a prime num­ber, but not the small­est nor the largest. Can it have to do with the num­ber of days in the four phas­es of the moon, or the fact that it is the largest prime num­ber before our more com­mon ten? I don’t know and I still need to learn.”


Very good, it pleas­es me that you have found for your­self a project to pur­sue. And this leads me to anoth­er thought and your answer gives me a clue as to how to pro­ceed. I have felt that our learn­ing will soon need a more struc­tured form so that those who come after us will know how to apply the lessons of Torah to their own lives. Per­haps each of you can find ways to gath­er the lessons we have begun into dif­fer­ent rubrics. If we lim­it those rubrics to six then oth­ers will always be able to keep the whole struc­ture in mind.”


Mas­ter,” said Johanan, “per­haps that is why God gave Moses the Torah in only five books to make cer­tain that even the sim­plest of us could always keep all of Torah in mind and still be able to do what he or she needs to accom­plish!”

A won­der­ful thought Johanan, said Antig­nos. I like that.”

This has been a won­der­ful exer­cise my friends, the remain­der must be sim­ple, what do you think.”


Sime­on con­tin­ued: “We have four matri­archs: Sarah, Rebec­ca, Leah and Rachel. But this num­ber offers us more: Our lib­er­a­tion is filled with fours we drink four cups of wine, our Torah insists four times that we tell our chil­dren about the Exo­dus and makes four promis­es of the Exo­dus itself. Even though our tables and chairs have four legs, this is not as sta­ble as life could be, after all, we have four ques­tions… a sign of insta­bil­i­ty. Is our lib­er­a­tion per­haps an insta­ble state?”


Per­haps so,” offered Antig­nos, “after all, the matri­archs Leah and Rachel did not get along, caus­ing insta­bil­i­ty in Jacob’s fam­i­ly. But the patri­archs them­selves are only three: Abra­ham, Isaac and Jacob. And I have learned from Pythago­ras…”

Oh, there you go again,” inter­rupt­ed Johanan, “you’ve been spend­ing too much time with those Greeks. I agree they have won­der­ful tools, but I fear they have some ideas we do not want.”

Easy my boys, let us at least hear what Antig­nos has to say.”

Well, Pythago­ras tells me that of all the phys­i­cal struc­tures we can make, the tri­an­gle is the hard­est to break. Some­thing that stands on three points is less like­ly to wob­ble than some­thing on two or four.”

The two of you can rest a bit more eas­i­ly. Dif­fer­ent cul­tures around us seem attract­ed to dif­fer­ent num­bers. It is true that the Greeks seem to like the num­ber 3.”

Again, Sime­on dropped his voice: “They may in the future attempt to divide our per­ceived uni­ty into a three­some… some­thing about a father and son and some­thing.… But per­haps your Pythago­ras friend has learned some­thing from us, I have often said that the world rests on three things: Torah, our ser­vice, and deeds of lov­ing kind­ness and in years to come one of our sages will tell his dis­ci­ples that the world is sus­tained by a dif­fer­ent three: truth, judge­ment, and peace. Does Pythago­ras, per­haps, spend too much time with us, Johanan or does Antig­nos spend too much time with him? In fact I have heard many of you, at oth­er times, express your thoughts in triplets as though you find it eas­i­er to base your thoughts on a sol­id ground­ing in this man­ner. Who is to say whether the wis­dom of the poet­ry or the phys­i­cal world estab­lish­es a fact as so.”

But look, the sun drops faster now into the sea. Soon dark­ness will enve­lope us. Are there four, three or two: air, earth, water and fire; or the sky, the waters and the earth; or is it only the sky above and the earth below?”


We speak of evening and morn­ing, heav­ens and earth… are these sim­ply rhetor­i­cal con­ven­tions of our ancient poets or do they reflect a real­i­ty in the cos­mos? Is it because our bod­ies are divid­ed into two halves and that we have men and women and we live and die that Moses came down from Sinai with the two tablets of the law? Our Per­sian lib­er­a­tors saw this as two deities strug­gling per­pet­u­al­ly one against the oth­er while their Indi­an neigh­bors at least saw these two forces emerg­ing as a yin and yang each out of the oth­er to form a whole. What do you say, my stu­dents? How do we respond?”


The time had come for the evening Sh’ma, the dis­ci­ples helped one anoth­er to their feet. The grow­ing dark­ness made the game dif­fi­cult to pur­sue and the young­sters gath­ered around. At the sound of the chil­dren, the women came out of the tent to join them as well. All faced east, away from the bril­liance of the glow­ing sky, toward the dark­ness of the new dawn yet to come. Togeth­er they pro­claimed the uni­ty of the cos­mos. And before the Love of the noth­ing­ness before them they placed their trust as they recit­ed: “Under­stand this Israel: the liv­ing breath­ing essence of the cos­mos is what we rec­og­nize as the source of all and this liv­ing breath­ing essence is a uni­fied whole.”

©Mark Hurvitz


While they say that all you need is love, we are each unique ones. How do you relate one to one in the unified whole ONE?

what is “#blogexodus”?

My friend and col­league Phyl­lis Som­mers has thought of yet a new cre­ative way to pre­pare for Pesach. You can learn more here.

#blogexodus schedule

blog­ging the exo­dus

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